SHAFAQNA – Iran stormed into the Asian Cup quarter-finals on a wave of passionate support with a 1-0 win over Qatar in their second Group C match at Stadium Australia on Thursday. Striker Sardar Azmoun scored the only goal in the 52nd minute to send the vast majority of the 22,672 crowd home happy and three-times champions into the last eight for the sixth straight Asian Cup.
Qatar, who had come into the tournament with high hopes after winning the Gulf Cup at the end of last year, failed to get a shot of note on target and will now go home after their final group match against Bahrain on Monday.
Iran finished the first half strongest and Sardar had already had a chance to break the deadlock in the 46th minute but poked the ball wide of goal with his left foot after Qatar goalkeeper Qasem Burhan had failed to deal with a corner.
The 20-year-old made no mistake six minutes later when, receiving the ball on the edge of the box from Ashkan Dejagah, he turned defender Almahdi Ali Mukhtar brilliantly and slipped the ball past Qasem and into the net.
The stadium exploded with noise and Sardar, the only change from the side that beat Bahrain 2-0 in their tournament opener on Sunday, raced to the corner to be embraced by a mob of fans.
Qatar were stung into life by the goal but were still unable to get any real penetration despite their possession their strength and technique earned them.
Former Asian Player of the Year Khalfan Ibrahim, omitted from the starting line-up, joined the fray at the hour mark just as Sardar left it with an ankle injury.
Sardar’s replacement Reza Ghoochannejhad looked determined to get back on the scoresheet to try and win back his place in the side but his long-range efforts lacked power when they did not lack accuracy.
Still, the impressive Dejagah continued to cause problems for the Qatar defence on the break while Qasem looked like a liability every time the ball was crossed.
Qatar substitute Meshaal Abdulla hit the post with a header in stoppage time but had been ruled offside in any case.
The first half had plenty of endeavour and effort but little goal-mouth action to reward the crowd, which made up for lack of numbers in the 82,000-capacity stadium with noisy passion.
Iran had come closest to breaking the deadlock five minutes before halftime when skipper Javad Nekounam found the target with a thumping header from a corner only for Ahmed Mohamed Elsayed on the goal-line to head clear.