AFC - Sardar Azmoun was the hero as Islamic Republic of Iran edged Iraq 1-0 on Tuesday to finish as Group C winners in the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023.
The win completed a remarkable turnaround for Team Melli, who won all four of their matches following the resumption of the Asian Qualifiers and keeps them on track for a third consecutive appearance at the FIFA World Cup Finals.
For Iraq, their chances of advancing to the final round of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 now depends on results elsewhere.
The much anticipated contest at the Sheikh Ali bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Stadium began at a frenetic pace, with both sides playing aggressively leading to Iran’s Ahmad Nourallahi and Iraq’s Humam Tariq picking up yellow cards in the first 15 minutes.
The pressure was definitely on the Iranians, who needed victory to emerge group winners, and all eyes were on Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi who have been in fine form since the Asian Qualifiers resumed.
Iran's persistence was rewarded in the 35th minute, with captain Ehsan Hajsafi beating the offside trap on the left wing before sending the ball to a surging Azmoun to tap home the opening goal from close range.
Iraq had a chance to draw equal moments before the half-time break through a corner kick but Ahmad Ibrahim's header lacked the strength to beat Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
Iraq switched gears at the start of the second half and just two minutes in, Bashar Resan displayed some fine footwork before unleashing a strike that forced Beiranvand into making a save.
Azmoun and Taremi continued to press forward and a counter in the 73rd minute gave Iran an opening but FC Zenit striker Azmoun was unable to beat Iraqi goalkeeper Jalal Hassan.
It wasn't to prove costly though as Iran held on for the win to advance to the final round on the Road to Qatar 2022.