Tehran – Dutch based duo Reza Ghoochannejhad of Heerenveen and Alireza Jahanbakhsh of AZ Alkmaar both scored in stoppage time to give Iran a perfect start in their quest to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The Azadi Stadium was packed and full of loud Iranian supporters that only had one thing on their minds: intimidate the visiting naturalized team of Qatar.
Iran and Qatar have become very familiar with one another over the years and TM were clearly the favorites entering yesterday’s match but with Qatar bringing in more naturalized players and being led by Uruguayan coach Jose Daniel Carreno they are ready to show that they will be a force to be reckoned with in this round of qualifying.
Three minutes into the match a signature long throw-in from Ehsan Hajsafi was punched away but not cleared to safety by Qatar keeper Amine Lecomte. Jahanbakhsh had a free attempt on goal that went agonizingly wide.
In the 12th minute, Qatar striker Sebastian Soria outmuscled Iranian right back Ramin Rezaeian and carried the ball into the penalty area only to see his left footed shot from a tight angle easily saved by Iranian keeper Alireza Beiranvand.
Four minutes later a long ball not handled well by left back Ehsan Hajsafi gave Qatari captain Hassan Al-Haidos the opportunity to get a quality attempt on goal but his shot was easily saved by Beiranvand.
Just after the half hour mark, a nice give and go from Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Sardar Azmoun presented Jahanbakhsh an excellent opportunity to put Iran in the lead but his shot from the top of the penalty area went over the bar, much to the displeasure of Azmoun.
Three minutes remained in the first half when Iranian midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi was fouled by midfielder Luiz Junior but the Sri Lankan referee let play continue. The Qataris came close to taking the lead but a shot inside the penalty area from Al-Haidos went high over the bar.
Meanwhile, TM head coach Carlos Queiroz was furious on the sidelines and could be seen slamming a water bottle into the ground.
The match remained scoreless as both teams went into the locker room at halftime. Matches between Iran and Qatar usually have been tough contests and it was no surprise that the score was 0-0 at the break.
Right before the hour mark a nice move by Sardar Azmoun led to an opportunity for Iran as he carried the ball into the penalty area but the Qatari defenders were quick to disrupt him at the right time with a loose ball leading to half a chance at best from Mehdi Taremi as his shot went wide.
In the 75th minute, a corner kick from the Qataris was headed away by Taremi but Qatari midfielder Boualem Khoukhi had a long range effort that came dangerously close.
Earlier in the match Vahid Amiri came on for Ashkan Dejagah but with the match still scoreless, Queiroz decided to bring on his super sub Reza Ghoochannejhad in the 76th minute.
Gucci wasted no time in making an impact with his left footed cross inside the penalty area that should have been headed in by Karim Ansarifard; who had just come on for Azmoun in the 84th minute. The reaction from Carlos Queiroz said it all.
The supporters inside the Azadi Stadium had been loud the entire match and were waiting for that moment to erupt in joy but a scoreless draw looked more and more likely just like Iran’s home opener against Qatar four years ago in the final round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Three minutes into stoppage time, Qatar defender Mohammed Kasola sent a back pass to keeper Lecomte. The French-Algerian keeper then attempted to clear the ball away but amazingly he didn’t get enough power on his kick and the ball went right to the chest of Iranian forward Karim Ansarifard.
Ansarifard carried the ball into the penalty area but Qatari defender Ahmed Yasser reacted quickly and got his foot on the ball. However, the ball went right to Ghoochannejhad. Time and time again Gucci has showed his world class finishing abilities and this time he made no mistake as he slotted the ball past Lecomte into the net to give Iran a 1-0 lead.
The fans inside Azadi Stadium and the Iranian bench erupted and jumped for joy.
From a neutral point of view, the goal was given to Iran by Qatar but we all know that good players capitalize on big mistakes and Ghoochannejhad did exactly that.
After the goal there was a skirmish between both benches as it took time for referees and security to sort everything out. If anything, the skirmish helped Qatar as there would be more time added on top of the original number of stoppage time.
New TM assistant coach and former captain Javad Nekounam was sent off in the melee that took place.
The Qataris desperately looked for the equalizer but would not find it. Instead, the Iranians added a second goal to seal the win.
A long left footed pass from Teymourian found Jahanbakhsh. The winger from AZ Alkmaar only needed two touches as he trapped the half-volley with his right foot to give Qatari midfielder Akram Afif third degree burns and then blasted a shot with his left foot from outside the penalty area that beat Lecomte at the near side to give Iran a 2-0 lead.
Entering Iran’s match against Qatar, all the talk was about Azmoun and Ezatolahi leading Russian club Rostov to UEFA Champions League but it was the super sub Reza Ghoochannejhad of Heerenveen who scored the winning goal to give Iran the crucial three points as they continue their quest to qualify to Russia.
Next up for Iran is a match against China in Shenyang on 6 September. The Chinese were defeated by South Korea 3-2 in Seoul but they will be hungry for a victory in front of their home supporters.
The Iranians celebrated the win at the final whistle but with the long trip to China, they need to quickly focus on getting another three points in what will surely be a tough match.
Iranian football fans have been quick to say that TM were not very impressive and some have even said the Qataris played better and were better organized. That may be the case but we all know that teams need to make adjustments whether they win, lose, or draw. In this case for Iran, it feels much better to make adjustments after a victory.