Az­moun dou­ble as Iran, Iraq soar into last 16

The Borneo Post - - SPORT -

ABU DHABI : Back- from­re­tire­ment Sar­dar Az­moun fired Iran into the Asian Cup knock­out phase on Satur­day as Car­los Queiroz’s side reached the last 16 along with arch- ri­vals Iraq, with Saudi Ara­bia on the brink of join­ing them.

Az­moun, 24, quit the na­tional team after fans rounded on him fol­low­ing Iran’s exit at last year’s World Cup, but he was the toast of Tehran once again with both goals in a 2- 0 win over Viet­nam.

Saudi Ara­bia, who like Iran are three-time for­mer win­ners of the Asian show­piece, beat Le­banon 2- 0, while teenager Mo­hanad Ali in­spired 2007 cham­pi­ons Iraq to a 3- 0 win over Ye­men.

Iran and Iraq, with four ti­tles be­tween them, joined al­ready qual­i­fied South Ko­rea, China and Jor­dan as the round of 16 be­gan to take shape.

Queiroz sin­gled out Az­moun after the Ru­bin Kazan for­ward’s dou­ble made him the tour­na­ment’s top scorer with three goals, and gave Iran a record ninth suc­ces­sive first-round vic­tory.

“He’s a fin­isher,” said the Por­tuguese, now in his eighth year as Iran coach.

“We have high hopes for him for this com­pe­ti­tion. But the way the team is con­tribut­ing around him, and our move­ment in the last third, are very in­ter­est­ing.”

Iran, look­ing to end a 43-year ti­tle drought since last win­ning Asian foot­ball’s most cov­eted prize, could have scored four or five but for some poor fin­ish­ing in Abu Dhabi.

“It’s a pity our per­for­mance didn’t pro­duce a cou­ple more goals,” Iran coach Queiroz told re­porters.

“But win­ning is the best medicine in foot­ball. To win two games and score seven goals — I have to praise my play­ers be­cause I am very de­mand­ing.”

Sa­man Ghod­dos and Me­hdi Taremi went close for Asia’s topranked team be­fore Az­moun rose to head home a Ghod­dos cross after 38 min­utes.

Az­moun lashed in his third of the tour­na­ment from the edge of the box 20 min­utes from time to make it seven unan­swered goals for Iran, who crushed Ye­men 5- 0 in their open­ing Group D game.

In Shar­jah, 18-year-old Ali scored a won­der­ful solo goal to put Iraq 1- 0 up after 11 min­utes, al­though ques­tions must be raised of the Ye­meni de­fence.

Pounc­ing on a loose back pass, Ali held off three de­fend­ers be­fore ri­fling his shot past Ye­men goal­keeper Jalal Hassan for his sec­ond of the tour­na­ment.

Bashar Re­san dou­bled Iraq’s lead mid­way through the first half when his de­flected shot drifted in off the up­right with Hassan slow to get across.

Ali hit the post in one of the rare high­lights of the sec­ond half be­fore Alaa Abbas grabbed Iraq’s third in in­jury time, fin­ish­ing sharply after Ahmed Yaseen’s header into his path.

Iran and Iraq will meet in Dubai on Wed­nes­day to de­cide who tops Group D in a re­peat of their com­bustible quar­ter-fi­nal of 2015, which Iraq won on penal­ties.

Saudi Ara­bia also main­tained their per­fect record as they beat Le­banon 2- 0, win­ning their open­ing two games for the first time since 1996 — when they last won the ti­tle.

Fa­had Al-Muwal­lad smashed a loose ball into the roof of the net with just 12 min­utes gone, and on 67 min­utes Hus­sain Al-Mo­qahwi fin­ished at the far post from Hatan Bah­bri’s teas­ing cross.

The Saudis, who top Group E with six points, will be con­firmed in the last 16 if North Ko­rea fail to beat Qatar on Sun­day.

— AFP photo

Viet­nam’s goal­keeper Van Lam Dang (left) gath­ers the ball ahead of Iran’s for­ward Sar­dar Az­moun (cen­tre) dur­ing the 2019 AFC Asian Cup group D foot­ball match be­tween Viet­nam and Iran at the al-Nahyan Sta­dium in Abu Dhabi.

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