Tens of thousands of Iranian fans descended upon Sydney’s Stadium Australia for what was expected to be akin to a training ground match, after opponents Qatar were battered by UAE in their Asian Cup opener.
But the Iranians met a commited opponent. Early on the Iranians had the better of play. Forward Sardar’s glancing header had the fans on their feet and the Qataris looked lost in the noise and fanfare created by the large Iranian contingent in attendance.
However, the Gulf Cup champions found a way into the match. There best outlet Lekhwiya midfielder Mohamad Ismail, made countless runs into the attacking third. Unfortunately for Qatar his crosses were either intercepted or of poor quality.
Qatar’s left back also found a way into the attacking third, and a measure of the seriousness of his threat was the manner in which Dejagah brought him down. His sliding tackle from behind could politely be described as disrespectful of a fellow professional. Unbelievably Dejagah got off scot free.
With Qatar having the better of play by the half hour mark, a frustrated Nekounam could be seen gesticulating toward Masoud. While the experienced heads talked, Dejagah was busy in the action, reeling off a shot on the brink of half time, as Iran edged back into the contest.
At the commencement of the second half Iran asserted themselves. Midfielder Masoud forcing his opponent into a yellow card offence as he dribbled man on man toward the perimeter of the box. And when Qatar turned it over in their own half the rampaging Dejagah was on the scene to quickly feed Sardar. Sardar simply swivelled and lost his marker, before stabbing the ball into the far corner.
Iran were happy to sit back and attack on the break from that point on. Former Fulham midfielder Dejagah putting in an ‘energizer bunny’ performance as his teammates provided a free sample of Iran’s award winning defence.
Qatar threw everything at the Iranians, but Team Melli showed more evidence of their signature impregnable defence. Though early on Muntari was often short of a teammate in the attacking third, late in the second half, Qatar would have needed their whole complement to surge forward to match Iran’s numbers at the back.
The final minutes became a replay reel of Qatari long balls, launched in vein, as Iran’s battalion at the back remained miserly. Iran now head into their match with UAE assured of qualification for the knockout phase, likewise their opponents. Both will march with trepidation toward a possible quarter final showdown with Japan.