Iran has qualified for the FIFA World Cup competitions in Qatar with a 1-0 victory over Iraq at home on Thursday, January 27. With the requisite number points secured, Team Melli’s upcoming games against the UAE, South Korea and Lebanon will now be mere formalities and the team is bound for Qatar.
Even after a fantastic season for Iran, this was perhaps the Iranian team’s most impressive performance of the qualifiers so far. Almost two years ago, under the management of Marc Wilmots and while Mehdi Taj was head of the Football Federation, Iran was very nearly eliminated in the preliminary rounds. But this time the team can boast six victories and one tie in the past seven games, and 19 points.
In the first round of play against Iraq, head coach Dragan Skočić sent Amir Abedzadeh, Shoja Khalilzadeh, Mohammad Hossein Kanani Zadegan, Omid Noorafkan, Sadegh Moharrami, Saeed Ezatolahi, Vahid Amiri, Ali Gholizadeh, Saman Ghoddos, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Mehdi Taremi onto the pitch. Not all of the team was available to him: Sardar Azmoon, Ahmad Nourollahi, Ehsan Hajsafi and Majid Hosseini had tested positive for coronavirus in the days leading up to the match.
In the first 10 minutes of play, Iraq was on the offensive, trying hard to score an early goal. In two instances it was only the cat-like moves of Iranian goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh that stopped Iraq from pulling ahead. After the 10th minute, however, Iran dominated the field and the ball.
Fahad Talib, the Iraqi goalkeeper, also brilliantly prevented Iran from scoring several times. And at one stage, a powerful kick by Alireza Jahanbakhsh hit the post. The first half of the game ended without a goal but Jahanbakhsh gave a shining performance as Iran’s attacking midfielder.
When the second half started, Jahanbakhsh succeeded in passing the ball forward to Mehdi Taremi at a critical moment. This time, Taremi thwarted the Iraqi goalkeeper, sending it into the net for Iran in the 48th minute.
After this goal, Team Melli tried to control the game and keep possession by using repeated, rapid-fire counter-offensives. Twice in the course of these, Saman Ghoddos had a chance to score again but didn’t manage. All in all, though, Iran succeeded in keeping the game controlled through to the close. Despite the last-minute woes caused by Covid-19 the team emerged victorious, becoming the first Asian team to secure its place at the tournament in Qatar.