January 12 – Sardar Azmoun (pictured) sealed Iran’s qualification for the knockout stags with two goals either side of the half in a 2-0 victory that saw them out-muscle Vietnam to and Sardar become the tournament’s top scorer.
Iran and Vietnam had never before faced off in the Asian Cup. Vietnam coach Park Hang-seo made two defensive-minded changes in his starting eleven with Doan Hau in at the back and Pham Huy an additional screen in front of the defense, packing the centre of the Vietnamese defense against the physically larger Iranians
The red wall was breached for the first time in the 16th minute, but Seyed Ghoddos failed to convert a simple through ball from Iran’s captain and namesake Seyed Dejagah.
Any doubts going into the match over Dejagah’s form were dismissed by a dominant performance with the most incisive play coming through the right hand side.
With pressure inexorably building, Azmoun had a shot saved by Vietnamese goalkeeper Van Lam midway through the first half, but he broke the deadlock in the 38th minute with the most typical of Azmoun goals, his 26th for Iran, almost inevitably heading in at the far post from an inviting Ghoddos delivery from the right.
If Vietnam’s plan had been to get to half time level it failed badly. By the end of the half Iran had enjoyed 70% of possession while the Vietnamese counterattack had not managed a shot on target.
Vietnamese coach Park made changes at half time replacing Phan Duc with Van Toan on the wing, urging his players to play higher up the field and press when out of possession.
‘Vietnam’s Messi’ Cong Phuong immediately had an impact and should have score to level the tie but Ali Reza Safarbeiranvand in the Iranian goal was more than equal to the attempt. At the other end, Iran responded with a quick-fire of volleys from both Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi.
In the 70th minute the Rubin Kazan striker turned past Hoang Trong and Duy Manh to put the game out of Vietnam’s reach with a left-footed finish, his third goal in two matches. Queiroz substituted the tournament’s leading scorer for Karim Ansarifard, keeping his star midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh from Brighton & Hove Albion on the bench, fuelling further speculation over his match fitness.
Vietnam had little left in the tank and faded. A last minute consolation goal almost came but Quang Hai curled his effort inches past the bottom left corner.
Iran now face Iraq in their final group game which will be a sterner test of their resolve and composure before the round of sixteen. Vietnam will take on Yemen in the hope of recording a big result to convert an outside chance of progressing from Group D.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1561015228labto1561015228ofdlr1561015228owedi1561015228sni@o1561015228fni1561015228