January 17 – Iran advanced to the last 16 of the Asian Cup as group D winners after a goalless draw with local rival Iraq. Vietnam defeated Yemen 2-0 to remain in contention for a knockout ticket.
Iran took top spot in a hard-fought 0-0 draw in Dubai in which both teams left each other little manoeuvring space. Iranian star striker Sardar Azmoun, with three goals in the tournament so far, should have scored, but he contrived to head down into the turf and over the crossbar early on. Iran also had two penalty claims denied before the break, but their winger Saman Ghoddos was lucky to escape a sending off when he stamped down on Sadi.
Brighton & Hove Albion’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who didn’t feature in Iran’s first two games over fitness concerns, squandered a golden opportunity three minutes before half time, blasting a half-volley over from 12 yards out.
After the break the game remained deadlocked for a long time, but Iraq almost took the lead in the 77th minute when Alaa Abbas directed a header goalwards only for Alireza Beiranvand to pull off a remarkable save and maintain a clean sheet.
Iran are unbeaten in the competition, but the scoreless draw with Iraq will have been a reality check for the tournament favourites after easy wins against both Yemen and Vietnam.
“The game was intense, enthusiastic, and it was played in good spirit,” said Iran’s coach Carlos Queiroz. “There was a lot of excitement on the pitch which was good for both teams, as well as for the fans of Iran and Iraq. I think the first half we played good football, we controlled the game and created two clear chances to score, unfortunately we didn’t.”
“From now on, it’s a game which is everything for the winner and nothing to the loser. All the profile of the games have changed, so we can say that the Asian Cup starts for us in the next game,” said Queiroz.
In the other group game Vietnam recorded their first win of the tournament, 2-0 against Yemen. The Vietnamese’s fate remains in the balance with the final round of first-round fixtures today. “Of course it would have been good to win with more goals, but whether it was 1-0 or 2-0 we really needed three points,” said Vietnam’s coach Park Hang-seo. “We played more aggressively from the beginning than before and the substitutes I chose were also aggressive players.”
“If we scored more it would have been better, but the main thing was to get three points. I asked the players to be calm and just to concentrate on winning the game.”
Yemen head home after their maiden participation in the Asian Cup and having won the respect of the football world and many new friends. Their presence at the finals was a remarkable triumph in itself.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1568873158labto1568873158ofdlr1568873158owedi1568873158sni@o1568873158fni1568873158