Iran, Iraq in Asian Cup foot­ball knock­out stage

Iran sank Viet­nam and Iraq beat Yemen as the neigh­bours and arch-ri­vals pow­ered into the Asian Cup round of 16 on Satur­day ahead of their highly an­tic­i­pated group de­cider next week

Times of Oman - - SPORTS -

ABU DHABI: Back-from-re­tire­ment Sar­dar Az­moun fired Iran into the Asian Cup knock­out phase on Satur­day as Car­loz Queiroz’s side were joined by arch-ri­vals Iraq and fel­low for­mer win­ners Saudi Ara­bia in the last 16.

Sar­dar Az­moun struck both goals in Iran’s 2-0 win in Abu Dhabi, while teenager Mo­hanad Ali’s early solo strike kick-started Iraq’s 3-0 vic­tory in Shar­jah.

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.

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 Car­los 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.

The Ru­bin Kazan for­ward lashed in his third goal of the tour­na­ment from the edge of the box 20 min­utes from time to give Iran a record ninth suc­ces­sive firstround vic­tory dat­ing back to 2007.

Co-favourites with South Ko­rea to lift the Asian Cup, Iran crushed war-torn Yemen 5-0 in their open­ing Group D game.

‘A fin­isher’

They were in­debted to goal­keeper Alireza Sa­far Beiran­vand for a coura­geous save from Nguyen Cong Phuong, but were oth­er­wise barely ruf­fled by the South­east Asian cham­pi­ons. “We just need to re­lax more,” said Queiroz. “In the sec­ond half our anx­i­ety to score a third goal led to some bad passes.”

Queiroz sin­gled out Az­moun, who came out of in­ter­na­tional re­tire­ment for the Asian Cup.

“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.”

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 Jalal Has­san in the Yemen goal. 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 struck in in­jury time, fin­ish­ing sharply af­ter Ahmed Yaseen’s header into his path. 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.


ALL EX­CITED: Iraq’s for­ward Alaa Ab­bas (2nd-R) cel­e­brates his goal, his team’s third, dur­ing the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Group D match against Yemen at Shar­jah sta­dium in Shar­jah.

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