Masoud Shojaei

Asian Cup roundup: United Arab Emirates off to hot start

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The second day of Asian Cup action saw two matches take place as teams continue to start play in Australia.

[ RELATED: Asian Cup preview ]

In Group C play, Qatar opened the scoring but conceded four unanswered goals as the United Arab Emirates cruised to a 4-1 victory. Ahmed Khalil and Ali Ahmed had two goals apiece for UAE as they dominated the 2022 World Cup hosts.

[ ASIAN CUP ROUNDUP: Friday | Saturday ]

Iran has been the strongest team in the region and opened up the tournament with a 2-0 win over Bahrain in Group C play. Ehsan Hajsafi scored off a brilliant volley into the top corner to open the scoring for Carlos Queiroz’s side before Masoud Shojaei sealed the win with ten minutes to play.

Monday’s Fixtures:

GROUP D
Midnight ET — Japan vs. Palestine
2 a.m. ET — Jordan vs. Iraq

Bosnia bag first-ever World Cup win, dash Iran’s hopes of advancing

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Bosnia and Herzegovina beat Iran 3-1 at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador on Wednesday, recording their first-ever World Cup win in the process.

Leading into the match Iran needed a win and Nigeria to lose to Argentina in order for them to qualify for the knockout stages, but they came up against a hugely talented Bosnia side who controlled the game from start to finish.

Midway through the first half Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko drilled a long-range effort home to put Bosnia 1-0 up, then just after the break Miralem Pjanic scored a superb second as Iran’s hopes of making the last 16 for the first time in their history looked to be over. Late on Reza Ghoochannejad popped up to half the deficit but moments later Bosnia launched another counter and Avdija Vrsajevic scored to make it 3-1 and dash Iran’s hopes.

With their win Bosnia finished in third place in Group F on three points, while Iran finished bottom of the group with one point.

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ] 

Early on Bosnia piled on the pressure from set pieces as Dzeko aimed to help the Eastern European nation finish their first-ever World Cup campaign in style. Iran grew into the game and threatened out wide with some intelligent running but Bosnia’s defense held firm during the early stages.

Both team continued to battle it out as Iran aimed to qualify for the knockout stages for the first time but midway through the first half Bosnia opened the scoring. Dzeko found some space 25-yards out, ran at three Iranian defenders and then drilled a low left-footed shot into the goal to give Bosnia a 1-0 lead.

source: Getty Images
Dzeko nets the opener to help Bosnia to their first-ever World Cup victory.

Soon after Iran came within inches of equalizing as Masoud Shojaei hit a drifting effort from the right-side of the box which hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced out. Asmir Begovic then made a great stop off a deflection from his own defender, as Iran began to pile forward in search of the win they needed to advance. However Bosnia continued to look more dangerous going forward and Ibisevic drilled a shot just wide before the break as the Iran trailed 1-0 at half time.

Needing to score twice and hoping that Argentina would beat Nigeria in Group F’s other match, Iran had a pivotal 45 minutes ahead of them.

However within 15 minutes of the restart Iran’s faint hopes of advancing were all but over as Pjanic was found by Dzeko on the overlap. The Roma star took one touch to settle himself and coolly slotted home Bosnia’s second goal of the game. Game over.

Iran were starring at World Cup elimination straight in the face.

Bosnia continued to impress as the World Cup newcomers hit the foot of the post when Sead Kolasina’s cross deflected towards goal and almost snuck in. The game then became a showcase of how good the tiny nation are, while also suggesting what could have been had they been luckier in close defeats to Argentina and Nigeria in their other Group F matches.

Late on Iran rallied as Ghoochannejhad first dragged a shot wide, then moments later the Charlton Atheltic forward pounced to steer home a ball drilled across the goal to hand Iran a lifeline. Yet less than a minute later, Bosnia broke on the counter and Vrsajevic smashed in their third goal, and his first international goal, off the post to quell any hopes of a last-gasp comeback from Iran.

At the final whistle both teams were heading home after being knocked out of the World Cup, but they dished up an entertaining game to leave on a high note.

LINEUPS

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Begovic, Vrsajevic, Kolasinac, Hadzic (Vrajnes, 61′), Sunjic, Spahic, Besic, Pjanic, Ibisevic, Dzeko (Visca, 84′) Susic (Salihovic, 79′)

Goals: Dzeko (23′), Pjanic (59′), Vrsajevic (83′)

Iran: Haghighi, Haji Safi, (Jahanbaksh, 63′) Hosseini, Sadeghi, Shojaei (Heydari, 46′), Timotian, Montarezi, Ghoochannejad, Pooladi, Nekounam, Dejagah (Ansaifard, 68′)

Goal: Ghoochannejad (82′)

World Cup Qualifying, Asia: The divergent Middle Eastern fortunes of Australia, South Korea

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There are worse things than being a one-trick pony, particularly if you’re an absolute master at that trick. For Australia, that one trick is their dominance in the air, a trait that saw them take Asia by storm during the last World Cup qualifying cycle. The rest of the continent, seemingly unprepared for such aesthetics eschewing pragmatism, watched as the likes of Joshua Kennedy and Tim Cahill head Australia to the top of the region.

In the years that followed the Aussies’ fist AFC qualifying campaign, Asia seemed to adjust. Japan won the continental title in 2011, and the Australians went without a win in the first three matches of fourth (final) round World Cup Qualifying. Coming off a surprise loss in Jordan, the Socceroos’ Tuesday match with Iraq had a must win feel to it.

Despite that urgency, Australia fell behind in the 72nd minute, an Alaa Abdul-Zahra goal giving Iraq a 1-0 lead. That’s when Australia’s one trick came through. Tim Cahill pulled back Iraq’s lead with an 80th minute header, while Archie Thompson, experiencing an unlikely international revival, put home an 84th minute winner.

Often people try to defend Australia as been more than a team reliant on crosses and set pieces – as if being a one-trick pony is a bad think within world soccer. When you survey the array of soccer-playing nations, you see most don’t even have one trick to lean on. Enviably, Australia has a reliable tactic in reserve.

It was a crushing loss for Iraq, who sit bottom of Asia’s Group B with a 0-2-2 record that fails to reflect their quality. Banned by FIFA from playing matches at home, the Iraqis are left wondering if results like today’s would occur if their home matches weren’t relocated to Qatar. Had the Iraqis held on, they’d be sitting in Australia’s spot: Second place, five points behind Japan, holding the inside track on a place at Brazil 2014.

Swagger-less favorites

In Asia’s other group, South Korea still has one of those inside tracks, even if they’ll be disappointed with Tuesday’s performance in Tehran. Though their hosts gave the Koreans every chance to claim full points, Group A’s leaders left Iran empty-handed.

The Iranians played cautiously over the match’s first act before showing some ambition as halftime approached. Korea only threatened from dead balls but, thanks to the service of Ki Sung-Yeung, still looked looked more likely to score, heading against the crossbar twice before break.

When Iran went a man down early in the second (Masoud Shojaei seeing red in the 56th minute), the Koreans were put on track for three, though it was the Iranians’ set piece magic that ultimately gave Carlos Quieroz’s team full points. A 76th minute ball served from the right met with a lazy clearance, the resulting ball allowing captain Javad Nekonam to blast home the game’s only goal.

Jung Sung-Ryong’s reaction summed up South Korea’s day. The goalkeeper was given no chance to stop the 17-yard blast into the left of his net. As the Nekonam’s ball bent the net, Jung’s head swung from his goal, back to Nekonam, then into space as he took a moment to process what had happened. The Iranians ran toward the crowd, piling on their captain as he ran down the field’s encircling track, leaving the Koreans to think back on a match they never seized, even after they were awarded a numerical advantage.

At full time, Iran’s celebrations highlighted the opportunity South Korea had lost. As Quieroz came down from the stands (where he had been sent for being a general nuisance all night), his players formed a mob on the field, with one of the best crowds of the international break celebrating the upset of a regional power.

Korea never played like the favorite. They never took advantage of what could have been a psychological edge. Even after going up a man, they played the match on Iran’s terms.

The only hint the match gave of Korea’s stature was Iran’s opening tactics – a cautious approach that sought to pressure Korea, but only after they’d been baiting to moving down the flanks. Compact and patient, Iran waited out the match’s first half hour despite being the home side. Come the 30-minute mark, it was impossible to tell Korea was a perpetual World Cup qualifier visiting a team hoping to reestablish some international prestige.

AFC World Cup Qualifying – Standings

Group A

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
South Korea 4 2 1 1 9 4 +5 7
Iran 4 2 1 1 2 1 +1 7
Uzbekistan 4 1 2 1 4 4 0 5
Qatar 4 1 1 2 2 5 −3 4
Lebanon 4 1 1 2 2 5 −3 4

Tuesday results

Qatar 0, Uzbekistan 1
Iran 1, South Korea 0

Group B

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Japan 4 3 1 0 11 1 +10 10
Australia 4 1 2 1 4 4 0 5
Oman 4 1 2 1 3 5 −2 5
Jordan 4 1 1 2 4 10 −6 4
Iraq 4 0 2 2 3 5 −2 2

Tuesday results

Oman 2, Jordan 1
Iraq 1, Australia 2