Iran has drawn with South Korea in its fourth match of the final stage of the 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifiers. The team ended up with a 1-1 score at home, narrowly retaining its position at the top of Group A in Asia.
The national football team showed two distinct faces in this spectator-less game: before South Korea’s first goal, and after. Neither was edifying. The pre-goal Team Melli was sub-par for the Asian contests, and the post-goal team was reckless, even dangerous in its pursuit of an equalizer.
Head coach Dragan Skocic initially sent the following players to the ground: Sadegh Moharrami, Hossein Kanaanizadegan, Shojae Khalilzadeh, Saeed Ezatolahi, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Ahmad Nourollahi, Mehdi Taromi, Vahid Amiri, Ali Gholizadeh, and Sardar Azmoun.
By contrast the South Korean national team, under the command of Portuguese coach Paolo Bento, faced down the Iranian national team with all its stars: Kim Sung-gyu, Kim Young-gwon, Lee Yong, Kim Min-jae, Hong Chul, Jong Woo-young, Huang In-beom, Huang Hee-chan, Son Heung-min, Lee Jae-sung, and Huang Ui-jo.
South Korea started the game on the attack. An onslaught by the team's creative midfielders deprived Iran of any starting advantage, forcing the latter to leave the ball on the opponent’s side for no clear purpose.
South Korea ended up controlling the field until the 35th minute, and could have scored with the opportunities created by Huang Ui-jo and Huang In-beom. But in the final minutes, Iran took possession of the ball. Mehdi Taromi and Sardar Azmoun went for the goal, but missed it. The first half ended in a goalless draw.
The second half began with an early goal by Son Heung-min, also the Korean star of the UK’s Tottenham Hotspur FC. In the 48th minute, Sun skirted the Iranian defense, leaving goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand exposed in a one-on-one standoff and unable to stop the ball hitting the net.
The Iranian national team then changed face, going on the attack all over the field. This led to a stalemate in front of the Korean goal, almost – but not quite – broken by a heavy shot by Saeed Ezatolahi, which hit the post. Finally Alireza Jahanbakhsh scored a goal in the 75th minute of play. Iran had another opportunity just three minutes later but Mehdi Taromi again hit the post.
The final minutes of the match disintegrated into Korean attacks and Iranian counter-attacks. After the most fraught game in the tournament so far – and the first for Iran that didn’t end in an outright win – Team Melli has managed to retain its place at the top of the qualifiers’ table.
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