Qatar 0 – 1 Iran
A delightful strike from youngster Sardar Azmoun was enough for West Asian heavyweights Iran to beat Qatar and book a place in the quarterfinals of the 2015 Asian Cup. They will now face off with UAE, who qualified earlier with a win over Bahrain, to decide who finishes first.
Sydney’s Stadium Australia was the venue for this crucial Group C encounter as Qatar looked to put the disappointment of their opening 4-1 loss to the UAE behind them. The Iranians, on the other hand, came into the game on the back of a fine 2-0 defeat of Bahrain. The crowd was overwhelmingly Iranian as around 20,000 Team Melli supporters assembled to create a cauldron of noise.
Both teams started cautiously with little to offer in terms of creativity. Qatar dominated possession but did not make any use of it. There were no concrete chances for either team apart from Iranian defender Mourtaza’s header late into the first half, which was cleared by Ahmed El Sayed at the post. Askhan Dejagah then had an effort go wide.
After the restart, it seemed that Carlos Quieroz’s men were determined to take the lead and put one foot in the quarter finals. The determination led them to push forward in search of the opener, which duly came in the 57th minute. It was a moment of magic which produced the goal. Qatari leftback Abdulkarim Hassan lost the ball near the touchline on the right and Dejagah pounced on it, taking a few steps before sending a low cross to Azmoun who was on the edge of the box, with his back to goal. The upcoming talent then managed to trap the ball and spin a-la-Bergkamp past defender Al-Mahdi before poking it past an onrushing Burhan. The Rubin Kazan striker wheeled off in celebration and the stadium erupted with a roar.
Unfortunately for Azmoun, an injury forced him off the pitch ten minutes after his goal and he was replaced by Reza Ghoochanejhad, who managed to get a couple of chances himself, but failed to capitalize on them.
Qatar coach Djamel Belmadi made his first substitution when he brought on the surprise absentee Khalfan Ibrahim in place of the injured Ismaeel Mohammed. The former Asian Player of the Year was expected to inspire a Qatari turnaround but sadly for the Gulf Cup champions, it did not materialize. Qatar attempted to force an equalizer but insipid play in the final third gave them no real chance.
In the final few minutes, Qatar striker Muntari’s header hit the post but he was ruled offside regardless. In the end, five minutes of injury time weren’t enough for an equalizer as referee Ravshan Irmatov blew the whistle to signal Iran’s progress and Qatar’s exit.
Ashkan Dejagah (Iran) – The Al Arabi man had a fine outing and was lively throughout the match, making energetic runs and taking a couple of shots at goal. His crosses were dangerous and Shojaei almost got to the end of one in the first half. It was his cross to Azmoun that resulted in the solitary goal. He will be crucial in the coming matches.
Boualem Khoukhi (Qatar) – Khoukhi was widely touted as a player to look out for prior to the tournament but he failed to live up to those expectations in Australia. Against Iran, he was almost invisible and unlike his club teammate Dejagah, he made no significant contribution to his team’s cause. A shot that went ridiculously high from 40 yards out summed up his game.
Iran won the match without getting into full swing; they didn’t have to do so when faced with a Qatari team that wasn’t dangerous. In any case, the quarterfinal place is in the bag and they can now play the remaining game against the UAE with relatively lesser pressure. They look a difficult team to beat and are surely title contenders.
Two defeats in two games mean Qatar go out. The embarrassment is more pronounced when considering the way they’ve played. Today, they created no good chances despite having more of the possession. The attack disappointed and the defence was shaky. Qatar simply had no spirit.
Iran is looking confident and strong going into their final group game against UAE. Quieroz’s men formed an unbreakable and well-drilled outfit.
Coming into the tournament with a 12 match unbeaten streak and two regional titles to show, Qatar was a dark horse for the title in many pundits’ books. However, things couldn’t be more different. A humiliating exit will now put Belmadi’s job in scrutiny.