ABU DHABI: Three-times champions Iran came through an early scare before marching confidently into the Asian Cup quarter-finals last night for the 13th time in 14 attempts with a 2-0 victory over a spirited Oman.
Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand saved an Oman penalty in the opening minute but a goal from winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh and a successful spot-kick from captain Ashkan Dejagah put Carlos Queiroz’s side firmly in control at half-time.
They were unable to add any more goals in the second-half but there was never any real doubt they would return to the same stadium on Thursday to meet Marcello Lippi’s China, 2-1 winners over Thailand in Al Ain earlier yesterday.
“I’m very satisfied with the win. It was not an easy game because the opponent was very tough,” said Lippi, who coached his native Italy to victory at the 2006 World Cup.
“We didn’t play very well in the first-half because we made a few mistakes but I’m very happy with the reaction from my players, especially in the second-half where in the end we created many chances.
“It was a great performance in the second half, so I’m very happy for the victory and the fact that we got to the quarter-final.”
Vietnam. meanwhile, progressed on a shootout after a nail-biting 1-1 draw with Jordan.
BT Dung converted the decisive spot kick for the southeast Asian champions, who will have their work cut out against either Japan or Saudi Arabia in the next round.
Oman, in the knockout stages of the Asian Cup for the first time and roared on by a large part of the 32,000 crowd, never flagged in their efforts and will forever ponder what might have been had Ahmed Mubarak converted the early penalty.
Striker Muhsen Al Ghassani, Oman’s best player, was hauled down by centre back Majid Hosseini but Beiranvand dived low to his right to deny the Oman skipper, as he had Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo at last year’s World Cup.
The quality of Iran’s forward line was always going to cause Oman problems and Sardar Azmoun had the first of many shots at goal as early as the fourth minute.
Jahanbakhsh was soon causing the Oman defence problems down the right flank but it was from a more central position that he opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, pouncing on a defensive error and poking the ball into the net.
Dejagah doubled the lead five minutes before the break after Mehdi Taremi had been bundled over in the box but Al Ghassani quickly gave a reminder that Oman were not done with a powerful shot that Beiranvand tipped over the bar.
Oman coach Pim Verbeek switched to a 4-4-2 formation at the break to chase the game but that opened up more space at the back and only the profligacy of the Iran forwards kept the lead at two goals.
Taremi and Azmoun vied for the title of worst offender but the Iran defence ensured Team Melli remained firmly on track to end the 43-year drought since their last continental title in 1976.