DOHA, Qatar -- Even before a ball has been kicked at the upcoming FIFA World Cup, Asia's representatives have already largely been written off.
Browse almost any pre-tournament predictions and chances are that none of the continent's five representatives -- Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea -- would have been tipped to make it out of the group stage (Six, if you count fellow Asian Football Confederation member association Australia).
There are several reasons for this -- some which are understandable.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia have squads entirely based in their domestic leagues, with the general consensus being that exposure to a higher level of football -- usually Europe - naturally improves players and subsequently the national team they represent. Agreed.
Japan, usually Asia's best chance of getting out of the group stage, have been handed a cruel draw against two former champions in Germany and Spain, while South Korea will not have it much easier up against Portugal, Uruguay and Ghana. Luck of the draw to blame... ditto.
Yet, this is a continent that at least produced one Round of 16 contender at the last World Cup in the form of Japan, while Iran missed out by just a point when no one had given them a chance given they had been drawn alongside heavyweights Spain and Portugal.
A solitary representative in the Round of 16 at Russia 2018 was the same as CONCACAF (Mexico) and more than AFCON, who saw all five of their representatives eliminated in the group stage.
So are things really that dire for Asian football? Will not a single team make it out of the first phase?
Not quite so, if you ask Iran star Alireza Jahanbakhsh -- a man who has spent the last decade plying his trade in Europe and who is preparing to feature in his third consecutive World Cup.
"That perception is actually giving us that extra motivation to go that extra mile and achieve that," he replied, when asked by ESPN about how the continent has been largely written off as a whole.
"At the 2014 World Cup, results [of the Asian teams] were relatively good. Especially at the 2018 World Cup, Iran came very close to qualifying for the second phase with some great results.
"So the level has definitely improved, especially with more Asian players playing in Europe. I'm very much hopeful that, this time around, all Asian teams will qualify for the second round."
Granted, Jahanbakhsh is bound to have belief in himself, his teammates, his nation and his continent. So what does the form guide say?
Japan? A 2-0 win over United States followed by a 0-0 stalemate with Ecuador. South Korea? A 2-2 draw with Costa Rica and then a 1-0 triumph over Senegal. Even Saudi Arabia played out 0-0 draws with both Ecuador and United States and just this Wednesday lost only 1-0 to 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia.
Of course, friendlies do not always provide the most accurate representation and the form book can go out the window once tournaments get underway. But based on the evidence at hand, the situation is surely not as desperate where the Asian teams will only be in Qatar to make up the group-stage numbers.
Either way, the naysayers have spoken. It is time for Jahanbakhsh, Iran and the rest of Asia to prove them wrong.
And they certainly will have no shortage of reason to do so.