AFC – TEHRAN, Another game at the Azadi Stadium yielded yet another victory for Carlos Queiroz and his Islamic Republic of Iran side as Team Melli moved a step closer to the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 finals next year with a 1-0 win over China.
Mehdi Taremi’s (pictured) solitary goal means Iran remain unbeaten in qualifying, boasting a 100 percent record at home, with 17 points out of a possible 21 and are four points clear of nearest challengers Korea Republic.
Uzbekistan, in third place a further point adrift, travel to Tehran in June and another win for Queiroz’s team will see them book their place in Russia, the first time the Iranians will be appearing at back-to-back FIFA World Cup tournaments after also playing in Brazil in 2014.
Iran’s success in these qualifiers – they are unbeaten in 15 games throughout all phases of qualifying, drawing only four times in total – hinges on the pragmatism of coach Queiroz, a man who has built his reputation on making his teams hard to beat.
A well-drilled defence gave away little against the Chinese, in much the same way as Queiroz’s team have suffocated other opponents throughout the current phase of qualifying. Iran gave up just five attempts on goal throughout the 90 minutes, with none causing any serious threat to goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
China’s cause was not helped, however, by Marcello Lippi’s decision to select inexperienced striker Zhang Yuning from the start.
Zhang, who has struggled this season to secure game time with SBV Vitesse in the Netherlands, was charged with leading the attacking line, but his attempts to hold the ball up and bring runners from deep into the game were sorely lacking. It came as no surprise when Lippi withdrew the 20-year-old at half-time, replacing him with Shanghai SIPG’s Wu Lei.
That wasn’t the only change at the end of the first 45 minutes for a disjointed China, with the Italian also replacing Zhang Xizhe with Huang Bowen, but Taremi’s goal inside the first minute of the half changed the complexion of the game.
The Persepolis forward, who played in the attacking line behind Reza Ghoochannejhad, carried much of Iran’s attacking threat and had, including the goal, a third of his team’s scoring attempts.
In the absence of Sardar Azmoun, who started on the bench, it was Taremi to whom Queiroz was looking for goals, and the 24-year-old delivered as Iran continue their march towards Russia.
Photo: Lagardère Sports