The 1976 tournament was a tournament that was hit by withdrawals, political bickering and expulsions, but ended with 112,000 people in the Aryamehr Stadium in Iran (now called the Azadi Stadium) celebrating as Iran became Asian Champions for the third time in succession.
1976 AFC Asian Cup
Before qualification even started, the AFC was forced to expel two of its members due to political issues. Israel were expelled in 1974 after a proposal by Kuwait was adopted by a vote of 17 to 13 with 6 abstentions, while Taiwan were expelled due to the political conflict with the People’s Republic of China.
More issues were to follow as 14 teams withdrew from qualifying before the competition had begun. This left some teams with only a few games to play to get to Iran, while others had a longer path to try and qualify.
Kuwait and South Yemen were the most fortunate because the withdrawals of Bahrain, Lebanon, Pakistan and Syria left them the only teams remaining and, with two places available, they qualified by default.
In Group 2, Iraq topped the group undefeated to return to the Asian Cup finals and were joined by Saudi Arabia, who despite losing their last two matches, had already done enough to make it to their first Asian Cup.
Group 3 followed the same process of the previous tournament with Group allocation matches, a group stage and a knockout tournament with the two finalists making the finals. This provided the Asian Cup with two new qualifiers as North Korea beat China PR 2-0 in the final, albeit only after China beat Japan in a tense and close semi-final 2-1, while North Korea only just got past Hong Kong after a 3-3 draw and an epic 11-10 penalty shootout win.
A surprise occurred in Group 4 as two times winners South Korea missed out on qualification for the second tournament out of three, losing 1-0 to Thailand in a winner-takes-all match. Thailand progressed to the tournament in Iran with first time qualifiers Malaysia, who finished undefeated after three wins and a draw.
Further issues arose before the finals as the tournament decreased by a third after the sudden withdrawals of North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. With no time to bring any other teams in, the tournament was forced to carry on with just six teams, three teams in each group.
Group A took place at the Bagh Shomal Stadium in Tabriz and featured Kuwait in their second Asian Cup and tournament debutants China PR and Malaysia. Kuwait dominated proceedings, winning both matches to top the group, with China just edging out Malaysia on goal difference for the second Semi-final spot.
In Group B, home advantage in the cavernous Aryamehr Stadium paid dividends for Iran as they eased past Iraq in the opening match 2-0, then thrashed South Yemen 8-0 to top the group without conceding a goal. Iraq made it three Arab nations in the Semi-finals after a nervy 1-0 win against South Yemen.
The Semi-finals produced two thrilling matches that both went the distance, with neighbours Kuwait and Iraq battling to a 2-2 draw at the end of 90 minutes, then Kuwait nicking it in extra time after a Fathi Kameel strike killed off Iraq’s resistance.
The other Semi-final gave the hosts their toughest challenge yet as the Chinese matched them all the way in a defensive battle that finished 0-0 after 90 minutes, precipitating another extra-time period. The Chinese resistance was finally broken by an Alireza Khorshidi strike after 100 minutes, with Hassan Roshan making certain of victory with a strike at the end of extra-time to secure Iran’s third successive Asian Cup final.
After China PR won their first game of the tournament with a 1-0 win over Iraq to clinch third place, Iran and Kuwait emerged in front of over 112,000 people to play out a final featuring the two best teams in the tournament.
This showed as both teams ground out a dour encounter with few chances, with the first goal likely to win the game. This duly came in the 71st minutes as Ali Parvin curled in a 25 yard free-kick to the rapturous acclaim of the Iranian fans and his team mates and which proved enough for Iran to hold on and win their third successive Asian Cup.