Tashkent – The National Team of Iran secured a huge 1-0 road victory over Uzbekistan at Bunyodkor Stadium on 6 October in Group A of the Final Round of 2018 World Cup Qualifying.
Entering this match, many TM fans were not very enthusiastic due to a lackluster win over Qatar and a scoreless draw at China.
Head coach of Iran Carlos Queiroz surprised everyone with a starting lineup that did not include Ashkan Dejagah, Andranik Teymourian, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, and Sardar Azmoun.
Reza Ghoochannejhad was up front as the lone striker and supported by midfielders Ehsan Hajsafi, Vahid Amiri, Mehdi Taremi, and captain Masoud Shojaei.
Saeid Ezatolahi played as the lone holding defensive midfielder and was supported by defenders Milad Mohammadi, Morteza Pouraliganji, Ramin Rezaeian, and veteran leader Jalal Hosseini.
Persepolis keeper Alireza Beiranvand was between the posts as Alireza Haghighi remains unattached with a lack of match praxis.
The lineup for the Uzbeks looked the same with the exception of captain Odil Ahmedov missing out due to injury.
Early on the Iranians had an opportunity to take the lead when a long ball from Ramin Rezaeian went into the penalty area and beat the Uzbek offside trap but Ghoochannejhad’s left-footed volley was sliced high and wide.
In the 27th minute TM had a free kick in a dangerous area. Shojaei’s free kick went into the penalty area and Jalal Hosseini’s header made it past Uzbek keeper Aleksandr Lobanov to give Iran a 1-0 lead.
Before this match all the talk was about players like Azmoun, Ezatolahi, Dehagah, Ghoochannejhad, etc. It definitely was awesome to see Hosseini the veteran show why he is a vital presence in the National Team of Iran.
The Uzbeks were down a goal but things didn’t get any easier when captain Server Djeparov had to be subbed out due to injury with five minutes remaining in the first half.
Fellow veteran Alexander Geynrikh came on for Djeparov and the home crowd was immediately re-energized as Geynrikh provided a spark off the bench in hopes of finding an equalizer before the half.
The Iranians held firm, played tight defense, and carried their one goal lead into the halftime locker room.
The crowd at Bunyodkor Stadium remained upbeat and loud throughout the match as the Uzbeks continued to look for the equalizer.
But the night turned out to be a frustrating one for the Uzbeks as the Iranians played excellent disciplined defense and got behind virtually every shot.
Carlos Queiroz brought on Sardar Azmoun for Ghoochannejhad three minutes after the hour mark but the Iranians were content with playing tight defense in hopes of punishing the Uzbeks on the counter attack.
Later in the match it was Azmoun who provided Vahid Amiri with an excellent opportunity to extend the lead in stoppage time but Lobanov came out to make an excellent sliding save with his legs to keep his team in the match.
The Iranians were relieved when Australian referee Ben Williams blew the final whistle after four minutes of stoppage time.
The win for Team Melli was huge as they picked up three points on the road. Just like the previous qualification campaign, the trend continued between Iran and Uzbekistan as the road team has won 1-0 for the third consecutive time.
Next up for TM is a home match against fierce rivals South Korea that will take place on 11 October. Matches between the two rivals have always been entertaining and this is the third consecutive qualifying campaign in which Iran and South Korea have been grouped together in the final round.
The Azadi Stadium will be loud and full of TM fans ready to intimidate the visiting South Koreans. The road victory against Uzbekistan was much needed but now it’s time for our TM footballers to focus their attention on the biggest showdown in Asian football.