Sports Mole – TEHRAN, First meets second in Group A of the Asian World Cup Qualifying when¬†Iran¬†hosts¬†South Korea¬†at the Azadi Stadium on Tuesday evening.
Both sides have a comfortable advantage over third-placed United Arab Emirates, with their meeting likely to decide who qualifies for Qatar 2022 as group winners.
There has not been much more Iran could have done in World Cup Qualifying so far, as the nation from Western Asia has won all three of their matches, without conceding a goal.
A 1-0 opening match victory over Syria was followed up by a 3-0 thrashing of Iraq in the first international break, before they despatched the UAE last week when the qualifiers resumed.
Whilst they may have started third-round qualification in imperious fashion, Iran only scraped through their first stage, requiring a slender 1-0 victory over fellow Group B opponents Iraq in the final match of the second round.
Eventually finishing top of the Group C table, Iran only progressed through to the third round by two points ahead of Bahrain, avoiding what could have ended up an embarrassing early elimination for the Asian giants.
Despite their nail-biting end, Iran often entertained in their second-round fixtures, scoring double figures on two occasions and ending the group with a +30 goal difference after only eight games.
Their 10-0 victory over Cambodia in the penultimate match back in June marked the second time they had reached double figures over the Angkor Warriors, having already beaten them 14-0 in the first meeting.
Remarkably, neither results marked their record international victory, with that record still standing from Iran’s astonishing 19-0 triumph over Guam during their first-round Asian Cup qualification match in November 2000.
Unlikely to even come close to matching their biggest win on Tuesday, given the sternness of opponent they are set to face, South Korea will be keen to end Iran’s 100% record, whilst maintaining their own impressive streak in qualification.
The side from the Southern half of the Korean peninsula are also unbeaten in third-round qualification and since their disappointing 0-0 draw against Iraq, South Korea have won their next two Group A matches, toppling Lebanon and most recently Syria.
Like Iran, South Korea also topped their second-round group, however, they were much more comfortable than their opponents this week, securing progression by seven points over third-placed Turkmenistan.
Unbeaten throughout the second round, South Korea enter their clash against Iran 13 World Cup Qualification matches without defeat, having last been beaten by Qatar in June 2017.
Similarly, Iran are also in the midst of an impressive unbeaten run in World Cup Qualification and their streak outdoes that of South Korea, stretching back to their 1-0 loss against Uzbekistan in November 2012.
That equates to a whopping 29 World Cup Qualification matches without defeat and they look set to make it 30, given their record in recent years against South Korea.
It’s nine competitive matches without defeat for Team Melli against South Korea, making an Iranian loss an unlikely prospect.
Without a doubt, South Korea’s standout performer is¬†Son Heung-min, who is revered in his native country and the Taegeuk Warriors’ captain scored his 27th international goal during last week’s 2-1 win over Syria.
Son is likely to line up in an attack flanked by Wolverhampton Wanderers winger¬†Hwang Hee-chan, who has featured in every World Cup qualifier this year, scoring one goal and assisting a further two.
Another goalscorer in their last outing,¬†Hwang In-beom’s maiden World Cup Qualifier strike opened the scoring on the night and the Rubin Kazan man will anchor the midfield alongside¬†Jung Woo-young.
Sardar Azmoun¬†has recently caught the eye of a number of clubs in Europe’s big leagues and the Iranian forward will no doubt feature in the attack alongside fellow striker¬†Mehdi Taremi.
The Porto forward netted Iran’s only goal in their 1-0 victory over the UAE, taking his tally to 27 for the national team, and the dynamic pair will be Iran’s biggest goal threat against South Korea.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh¬†has shouldered a lot of the creative responsibility for Iran in recent years and the former Fulham forward will once again feature on the wing for Iran, whilst captaining the side, should usual skipper¬†Ehsan Hajsafi¬†sit the game out.
No player in the current Iranian squad has more caps than Hajsafi, yet the defender could only manage 12 minutes against the UAE, following a thigh problem.
Iran possible starting lineup:
Beiranvand; Moharrami, Kanaanizadegan, Khalilzadeh, Noorafkan; Jahanbakhsh, Afagh, Nourollahi, Amiri; Azmoun, Taremi
South Korea possible starting lineup:
Kim; Lee, M. Kim, Y. Kim, Hong; Jung, I. Hwang; Song, Son, H. Hwang; U.J. Hwang
Prediction: Iran 2-1 South Korea
Without a doubt, this clash is the heavyweight bout in Group A, with the pair set to qualify regardless of the result.
Iran is definitely the form side in this fixture, making another World Cup Qualifying victory for the group leaders a likely outcome.