AFC – DOHA, Islamic Republic of Iran moved a step closer to securing their automatic qualification to the FIFA World Cup in Russia 2018 on Thursday evening with a fine display in Qatar to secure a 1-0 away victory over their Group A rivals.
Iran now top the pool with 14 points from their six games so far, leaving them with a five-point advantage over third-placed Uzbekistan with just four games remaining.
Carlos Quieroz’s side are now firmly in pole position to advance.
Iran create high quality chances
On Thursday, Iran gave another demonstration of the fast counter-attacking football which has made them such a threat throughout this qualification campaign.
Despite ceding 60.4 percent of possession to their hosts, it was Iran who largely controlled proceedings throughout and, indeed, who carved out the better opportunities.
For all of Qatar’s greater possession of the ball, it was the Iranians who managed 16 shots on goal to their opponents’ 12. However, more tellingly, 11 of those chances came within the penalty area and seven found the target.
Not only were Iran able to carve out more chances than their opponents, but they were also ensuring their attacking players were given the ball in the right areas.
Work-rate of forwards key to counter
Iran’s attacking duo of Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi (pictured above) led the charge for their side in terms of pressing Qatar when out of possession and then springing quickly on the counter attack.
The duo enjoyed a combined seven chances to score, with Taremi ultimately breaking the deadlock in the 52nd minute. But only excellent goalkeeping from Qatar’s Saad Al Sheeb prevented Azmoun joining him on the scoresheet.
When without the ball the duo were quick to seek to recover the ball with the heatmap above showing the tremendous amount of ground covered.
The duo won the ball and made a combined seven recoveries, three tackles and two interceptions, while their foul count also shows the pressure they imparted upon the Qatari defence.
As soon as the ball was won back, meanwhile, they were ready to pounce. With Iran playing 22.8 percent of their passes long, their intent to quickly transition forward was clear.
Karim Ansarifard thrives in deeper areas
Tucked in on the left-flank, Karim Ansarifard was used in a more restricted role than that which we have become accustomed to seeing him, playing as a link between the midfield and attack.
Indeed, he was not always as involved in the game in an attacking sense as he would have liked, touching the ball just 33 times prior to his 71st minute substitution. However, he still played a key role in success.
Along with fellow creative player Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Ansarifard was charged with ensuring quick supply of ball to his strikers higher up the pitch.
His role was perfectly demonstrated with his assist for Taremi’s goal, with a quickly played vertical pass from deep in midfield allowing his striker to spring the defensive line and finish past the keeper.
Despite just 19 passes on the night, Ansarifard created two clear-cut chances for his side besides providing invaluable protection of the left of midfield.
And for all their possession, Qatar managed just five efforts from within the Iran area and only two of those shots found the target. For Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand it was a comfortable evening’s work.