AFC - Islamic Republic of Iran revived their hopes with a crucial 3-1 win over Hong Kong in Group C of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 at the Sheikh Ali Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Stadium in Muharraq, Bahrain on Thursday.
It was a crucial victory for the Central Asians who had suffered consecutive defeats to Iraq and Bahrain before the Asian Qualifiers were halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The win took Iran to nine points as they stayed in sight of group leaders Iraq and Bahrain, who they face next on Monday.
Desperately needing a win, Iran applied heavy pressure from the start with Hong Kong goalkeeper Yapp Hung Fai having to be on his toes.
Sardar Azmoun, who had helped Zenit Saint Petersburg to a third consecutive Russian Premier League, peppered the Hong Kong penalty box with several crosses from the right flank early on but found no takers.
Iran’s persistence was finally rewarded in the 23rd minute, when Ali Gholizadeh displayed some impressive footwork in the final third to dribble past Sun Ming Him and beat custodian Yapp from an acute angle to open the scoring.
Hong Kong, who were just a point behind Iran prior to the match, immediately looked for the equaliser and gave the Central Asians a taste of their attacking prowess when Matt Orr found space to take a shot from outside the box, but failed to get his strike on target.
Dragan Skocic’s Iran, however, continued to dominate with Mehdi Taremi coming close in the 43rd minute from near the penalty spot, but his attempt was blocked by the Hong Kong defenders.
Hong Kong were more adventurous in the second half but Iran were still very much in control as they came close several times.
Their lead was doubled in the 61st minute as an exchange of passes led to Taremi placing the ball for Vahid Amiri, whose strike deflected off Hong Kong captain Huang Yang before settling in the back of the net.
Karim Ansarifard made in 3-0 in the 84th minute with Cheng Siu Kwan scoring a consolation a minute later as Hong Kong now look to revive their hopes against Iraq on June 12.