Iran Advances to Next Stage as First Team

Iran received the first goal against Iraq but could overcome its rival 5-3 at the end
Iran national futsal teamIran national futsal team

Defending champions Iran edged Iraq 5-3 on Tuesday in Taipei to win Group C of the AFC Futsal Championship in a match that proved the first real test of the holders’ credentials.

According to the AFC website, both Iran and Iraq had already qualified for the quarterfinals ahead of the match at University of Taipei Gymnasium but, nevertheless, it was to be a hard-fought and intriguing contest to see which would top the standings.

With Iran having netted double figures in both previous ties against Myanmar and China (scoring a total of 25 goals and receiving just one), Iraq shocked the defending champions by taking the lead with seven minutes played as Waleed Khalid burst up the field on the counter to fire across Alireza Samimi into the far corner.

But Iraq’s joy was cut-off in less than a minute. Hossein Tayebi bravely challenged flying Iraq goalkeeper Zaher Mahdi for Farhad Tavakoli’s chipped ball forward, and his header looped into the unguarded net.

And with just over eight minutes remaining Iran completed the turnaround with Ali Hassanzadeh notching his seventh of the tournament after his shot took a wicked deflection off Hasan Ali to wrong-foot Mahdi.

Iraq was determined to restore parity before the break, though, and Samimi needed to be on his toes to keep out several efforts, including a firmly-struck shot from Salim Faisal that needed a particularly agile parry, while at the other end Mahdi bravely smothered at the feet of Tayebi.

It was a closely fought affair after the restart and it took over five minutes before the next goal was scored, Moslem Oladghobad tapping home Tayebi’s cross at the back post to double Iran’s lead.

Firas Mohammed reduced the deficit to 3-2 by converting Khalid’s cross with a little over 10 minutes remaining but, as before, the Iraq goal triggered an immediate response from their opponents with Tavakoli side-footing in a fine strike to restore the two-goal advantage.

The back-and-forth nature of the game continued with Mohammed adding his second and Iraq’s third of the night as he headed home after a three-on-one counterattack.

But it was Tayebi who had the final say in the game as he took the outright lead in the top goalscorers standings with his second of the night and eighth overall to give Iran the 5-3 victory.

 Tough Game

“We talked before the match that Iran would be a difficult team. In futsal sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. We looked at this game as preparation for the next round. Iran is the champions of Asia and third in the world. It is very strong technically and physically and has a very good coach. We focused on the defense in this game, but we made some mistakes which saw us concede five goals. We can’t make these mistakes in the knockout stages,” Haitham Abbas, Iraq head coach, said after the match.

Admiring their opponent, Iran Head Coach Mohammad Nazemasharieh said, “It was expected that we would have a tough game. We know Iraq very well, as we play each other two to three times a year. The tough teams always give tough games. It was clear Iraq wanted to be number one in the group so it played a strong game”.

“Step by step, the games get harder and harder as the tournament progresses. The knockout stage is no joke, if you make mistakes you’ll be eliminated. We may look to be more conservative in some matches going forward,” he added.

Iran will meet Thailand in the quarterfinals on February 8. The other matches will be held between Lebanon and Iraq, Japan and Bahrain as well as Vietnam and Uzbekistan.

Semifinals are slated for Feb. 9 and the final game is set for Feb. 11.

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