Last night spelled one of the most unforgettable nights in recent Iranian footballing history with the national team’s 3-0 victory over Bahrain – the first time Iran has beaten Bahrain at home, paving the way for the country to advance to the World Cup 2022.
Two quick-fire goals by Sardar Azmoun in the 51st minute and at the half mark seemed to have cinched it for Iran, cemented by a last goal by Mehdi Taromi in the 79th minute.
The return match between the two teams was held at the Bahrain National Stadium and saw Iran’s Team Melli take 12 points, now second only to Iraq in Group C of the Asian qualifiers, having also beaten Hong Kong 3-0 on Thursday.
A Shaky Start – Then a Spectacular Win
The first and worst possible event in last night’s epic spectacle was the leak of the Iranian national football team’s configuration about five hours before kickoff.
For reasons best known to itself, Khabar Online published a list of players at 4.12 PM, long before Iran’s managers had planned to show their hand to Bahraini coaches.
This premature publication taught fans two things: one, that there is at least one leaker within the Iranian national team, but also that some media inside the country have no compunction with throwing said team under the bus in favor of opponents.
Scrambling to recover, head coach Dragan Skočić made two key tweaks to the configuration before the starting whistle blew. Ehsan Hajousefi and Milad Mohammadi were returned to the pitch while Vahid Amiri's position was changed.
An Impressive But Slow Start
Early mistakes by a few of the Iranian players meant the game was too close to call early on. In the 12th minute, Ahmad Nourollahi's pass to Mehdi Taromi left him in a one-on-one situation but Taromi's slow header wasted the team’s first chance at a goal.
From there, though, Iran got into the game very quickly, took possession of the ball and tried to force Bahrain into making a gaffe on home turf. Ahmed Nourollahi had another chance at scoring in the 21st minute with a shot from behind the penalty line, which in the end was powerful but not accurate.
In the first half, Iran's superior tactical skills were keenly felt and even confirmed later by Bahrain. But initially at least, this did not lead to a goal. Meanwhile referee Fu Ming, who is infamous for dishing out yellow and red cards to Asian Football Confederation members, also handed a yellow card to Bahraini defender Ahmed Nabeel in the first half after he interfered in a one-on-one faceoff between Taromi and the Bahraini goalkeeper in the first half.
Taromi’s Final Goal Seals the Win for Iran
Iran’s tentative but strong start was then punctuated by another judicious switch-out by Skočić. Ehsan Hajsafi, who until that point had made the most slip-ups on the Iranian team, was placed on left defense while Milad Mohammadi left the field and Saman Ghodous was brought on. Still Hajsafi began the second half with two bad passes and a blow that struck the Bahraini defender in the abdomen.
These blunders aside, the Iranian team remained determined to score. Vahid Amiri, who had already started with a flawless game, rebounded again in the 54th minute with a pass to Mehdi Taromi, who in turn sent the ball to an open Sardar Azmoun with a deep and accurate pass. One artistic shot by Azmoun later, the score was 1-0 to Iran.
Iran had a chance to score a second goal in the 58th minute. Ghodous tried to hand Taromi the opportunity with an unusual pass that eventually led to the ball rebounding into the sky. But in the 60th minute Taromi then made another deep pass to Sardar, who sent the ball straight into the net again.
Ahead of the second half Bahrain’s manager swapped out several players but Skočić took a more minimalist approach. Saeid Ezatolahi took the field for Iran while Vahid Amiri was placed midfield. These substitutions proved to be a masterpiece; Ghodous took the pulse of the game while Torabi launched attack after blistering attack, tipping the balance in favor of Iran.
Finally Torabi stole the ball again and in the 79th minute, Ahmad Nourollahi passed it back to him. In a last one-on-one with the Bahrain goalkeeper, Taromi sealed the win for Iran – proving once again that one of the most star-studded teams in Asia is still alive, still kicking and very much still thinking about the World Cup 2022.