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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Iran into Asian Cup quarters

Sunday, January 16, 2011 - 4:14 PM
Source: BigPond Sport
Iran became the first side to make the Asian Cup quarter-finals on Saturday after beating North Korea 1-0, while defending champions Iraq got a stoppage-time winner to heap misery on the UAE.
Three-time champions Iran are seeking to end a 35-year continental title drought and Karim Ansari Fard moved them a step closer with a 62nd-minute winner as Team Melli fought hard to crack a tight North Korean defence.
It put Iran on six points in Group D following their opening 2-1 victory over Iraq, guaranteeing them a spot in the last eight with one match to play.
Iraq stunned United Arab Emirates when Walid Abbas put the ball into his own net in the third minute of added time to leave the Iraqis well placed in the race for the second qualifying berth.
They now have three points to the one of UAE and North Korea, setting the scene for a nail-biting final round of matches on Wednesday, when Iran play the Emirates and Iraq face the Koreans.
'The qualification of our team into the final eight for me is a fantastic accomplishment,' Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi said.
'Our group was a group of death and I still believe it is the most difficult group in the tournament.
'I'm very, very proud of my players and Iran.'
While Iran deserved the win, North Korea captain and FC Rostov midfielder Hong Yong-Jo should have equalised in the dying seconds but he sent his shot from close range against the bar to deny his side a precious point.
'I feel sorry that we have missed the chances and it might have a psychological impact on our players,' said North Korea coach Jo Tong-Sop.
It was a close encounter, with Iran having to work hard to unlock the famously tight North Korean back line.
They struggled to break down the North's resolve but appeared to have opened the scoring in the 28th minute when Fard trapped a long ball in the box.
He beat Korean defender Ri Jun-Il and slotted the ball past Korean goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk, but the linesman disallowed the goal and Fard instead got a yellow card for a handball.
Iran stepped up their offensive with a series of counter-attacks after the interval and in the 62nd minute Fard finally drew first blood, volleying in a cross that caught the goalkeeper wrong-footed.
The Iraq-UAE game looked destined for a draw before the unfortunate Walid Abbas turned the ball into his own goal in injury time.
'It was in injury time and an own-goal so it's a bit lucky at the end, but we fought all the time and forced our luck,' said Iraq's German coach Wolfgang Sidka.
'We will enjoy this evening and from tomorrow we will start preparing for North Korea. We know we have our fate in our hands.'
Iraq had the better of the opening spell at Al-Rayyan Stadium, without forcing keeper Majed Naser into action.
But it was the UAE who had the first meaningful chance, defender Hamdan Al Kamali leaping highest to crash the ball against the post from an inswinging corner in front of a disappointing crowd of just over 7000.
Moments later they should have taken the lead when forward Ismaeil Matar nodded the ball on for strike partner Ahmed Khalil, but the 2009 Asian young player of the year headed well over.
Six minutes before the break Iraq had their best chance when Nashat Akram crashed the ball against the bar with a towering header.
The second half was again sluggish in getting going, but when it did, Iraq looked most likely to break the deadlock.
With both sides badly needing the three points, they made a rash of substitutions to force the breakthrough and it was Iraq who benefited most.