AFC - The Islamic Republic of Iran booked the first AFC ticket to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 with a third consecutive win in Group A of the AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar, beating neighbours Iraq 1-0 at Azadi Stadium on Thursday.
The result sees Team Melli go back to top the group after Korea Republic had temporarily snatched the lead with a win against Lebanon earlier in the day, the Iranians building an unassailable lead at the top that pulled them past the finish line with three games to go.
Both teams were lively from the off with chances coming as early as the sixth minute, when Omid Noorafkan got a shot following a good pass from Alireza Jahanbakhsh, but Iraq’s Fahad Talib fisted the ball away for a corner.
At the other end just a few minutes later, Aymed Hussein got a header on Bashar Resan’s delivery from the flank, but an alert and well positioned Amir Abedzadeh held the ball, with the following attack seeing Jahanbakhsh’s long range shot take a bounce before hitting the post, in what was an exhilarating opening 12 minutes.
With 25 minutes on the clock, Talib pulled off a magnificent double save after Jahanbakhsh’s shot was spilled into Mehdi Taremi’s path, with the FC Porto striker’s shot going straight at the Iraqi keeper’s fists to be sent away. Vahid Amiri also got a shot seconds later, but that was deflected behind for a corner by Talib.
Talib’s heroics showed no signs of stopping when Ali Gholizadeh, unchecked, was in on goal following a magnificent long pass from the other side of the pitch by Jahanbakhsh, yet the former’s shot was yet again saved by the Iraqi keeper, capping off an electrifying opening 45 minutes.
The deadlock was finally broken just two minutes after the break, when Ahmad Ibrahim attempted to intercept but missed Jahanbakhsh’s low through ball, allowing Taremi a clear path on goal with the Team Melli forward dinking it just above Talib to pull his country ahead.
Saman Ghoddos almost doubled IR Iran’s lead when Taremi's feigned run between the two central defenders as Moharrami played the former through, allowing the Brentford FC man to take a low shot from close range that skimmed past the post.
The Lions of Mesopotamia threatened to equalise with 15 minutes left on the clock after substitute Hasan Abdulkareem fired a stinging low shot that was saved by Abedzadeh, but fell into the path of Huseein who could not get a clean touch on it.
The result sees Iraq remain in fifth place with four points, with IR Iran topping the group with 19 points. Iraq face Lebanon away in four days, while Dragan Skocic’s men will remain in Tehran to take on the United Arab Emirates on the same day.