Iran 2 Oman 0
By Paul Nicholson in Abu Dhabi
January 20 – Iran reconfirmed themselves as favourites for the Asian Cup with a powerful 2-0 win over a battling Omani side. They could easily have won by five.
But it could have been ‘hayu Omani’ so different. With two passionate sets of fans in the 31,900 crowd the Omanis charged the atmosphere hammering out an impressive rendition of their national anthem.
The stage was set and the fired-up Omani team needed no further encouragement. In the opening minute 21-year-old Omani star Muhsen Al Ghassani broke into the box with the ball at his feet only to be felled by Iran’s Seyed Majid Hosseini.
Omani fans turned up the volume another notch and Iraqi fans added to the crescendo as Ahmed Al Mahaijri stepped up to take the penalty. But it was tragedy for Oman. as Alireza Beiranvand dived to his right and pushed the ball wide for a corner. Such cruelty and pain for the tournament’s most warmly entertaining fans.
Iranian coach Carlos Querioz described the penalty as the first phase of the game. The second phase was an 80-minute lesson in creative possession and pressuring the opposition, if not goal finishing
Iran quickly took the game by the scruff of the neck, winning every 50-50 ball and cutting out Omani possession quickly. The waves of Iranian attacks were defended with long balls forward whenever the Omanis could wrest the ball their way.
Iran’s attacks saw Sardar Azmoun right footed shot go wide from outside the box, Seyed Majid Hosseini missed a header, Mehdi Taremi hit high from the middle, and Ali Al-Busaidi’s left foot shot from outside the box went high.
Eventually Iran scored on the half hour but it took a horrible defensive error error to let them in. Mohammed Al-Musallami failed to deal with the ball over the top and was muscled off it by Iran’s incoming Alireza Jahanbakhsh who poked the ball home.
Eight minutes later Iran were two up. Mehdi was through on goal but was brought down by Saad Al-Mukhaini. No mistake with this penalty as Ashkan Dejagah hammered the ball into the centre of the goal. Desperation for Omani fans, jubilation for Iran.
This was the first time Oman had progressed to the knock out stages of the competition. Iran haven’t won an Asian Cup knockout game since 2004, losing at the quarter-final stage in each of the last three tournaments. That was to change to night as Iran kept up their high momentum game in the second half, hunting for more goals but being denied by desperate Omani defending and some great goalkeeping by Faiyz Al Rusheidi.
Oman’s Dutch coach Pim Verbeek was as ever frank in defeat: “I really enjoyed this game. I enjoyed the atmosphere, I enjoyed the fight of both teams but they were physically stronger. We did everything that was possible. I am not talking about the penalty in the first minute because we still 89 minutes to go.
“We had a fantastic tournament. I am very proud of players and my staff and again unbelievable support from our Omani fans…Iran are the better team.”
But Verbeek is right, the Omani fans have been a feature of this tournament with their enthusiasm, friendliness and humour. They will be sadly missed, though Verbeek promises this isn’t the end for Oman.
“I think it is a team of the future,” he said. “We have a good Olympic team as well with some very talented players. They are in camp now and preparing for a tournament in March. We have to prepare for World Cup qualification and we have talent and also a good mentality – our players love to play football and I am very proud to have worked them for over two years.”
Iran’ss Queiroz summed up the match saying: “We were generally speaking the strongest team on the pitch, created more opportunities and deserved to win and move to the next stage.
Referring to the missed goal opportunities he said: “We need to play with clear opportunities and put those balls in the net. But football is like this sometimes. In the knockout stage it is important to kill the game early.”
Iran now face China who came back from a goal down to beat Thailand 2-1.
Oman’s fans will climb back in their trucks and head back across the border, but what a show they put on.
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