Skopje – In preparation for the final round of the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers, visitors Iran faced Macedonia on 2 June at the Philip II National Arena.
Newly signed keeper Alireza Beiranvand of Persepolis got the start in goal ahead of Alireza Haghighi.
Sardar Azmoun had an excellent chance to give Iran the lead seven minutes into the match when he was denied on a breakaway by Macedonian keeper Stole Dimitrievski. However, Azmoun more than made up for it on the ensuing corner kick when he was left unmarked and tapped in an Alireza Jahanbaksh corner kick into the open net.
The Macedonian defenders seemed confused as they saw the ball go through some traffic in the six yard box but made the biggest mistake when they failed to mark the dangerous Azmoun.
Two minutes later Macedonia equalized through Aleksandar Trajkovski. The midfielder from Palermo had nice right-footed shot from the top of the penalty area that went past a diving Beiranvand to level the score at 1-1. The Iranian defense was unorganized as they were unable to clear the ball safety. As expected, captain Goran Pandev of Genoa was involved in the action as he helped his side find the equalizer, much to the delight of the home supporters.
Entering this match, it was well known that Macedonian head coach Igor Angelovski would be fielding a side that included players from the U-21 Macedonian National Team. The inexperience was definitely evident when Sardar Azmoun was able to score his second goal of the game in the 20th minute to give Iran a 2-1 lead.
A long ball cleared from the Iranian penalty area bounced near the center line but the Macedonian center back was unable to control the ball properly and of course, Sardar Azmoun made him pay for his mistake by muscling the ball away and carrying it into the penalty area. The Iranian striker nicely placed his low shot into the corner past a helpless Dimitrievski.
On the hour mark, nineteen year-old midfielder Saeed Ezatolahi took the ball from the Macedonians and showed why he is an up and coming star for Team Melli when he placed a perfect pass to Rostov teammate Sardar Azmoun. The Iranian striker made no mistake with his excellent finishing to complete his hat-trick and give Iran a comfortable 3-1 lead.
Later in the half, second half substitute Milad Mohammadi of Terek Grozny made a nice run down the left side into the Macedonian penalty area but his low left-footed shot went wide.
Mehdi Taremi had two opportunities to score a goal for Iran but his point blank shots were denied nicely by the leg of Dimitrievski each time.
Overall, Iran were the better side throughout the match and it was nice to see the second half substitutes cause problems for the Macedonian squad.
Team Melli will now prepare to host Kyrgyzstan on 7 June in Iran for their last tune-up before the final round of World Cup Qualifying begins in September.
Starting Lineup for Iran: Beiranvand – Rezaeian, Montazeri, Pouraliganji, Hajsafi (Mohammadi) – Ezatolahi, Shojaeian – Jahanbakhsh (Taremi), Dejagah (Shojaei), Amiri (Torabi) – Azmoun (Ansarifard)