Persianfootball.com (Tehran) – Iran defeated Turkmenistan 3-1 in the iconic Azadi stadium and retake the pole position in Group D of the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers in Asia with 11 points after 5 matches. ¬†The impressive result marks the first time Team Melli has defeated Turkmenistan in an official FIFA match!
Iran took the lead in the 6th minute when Morteza Pouraliganji rose above the Turkmen wall to convert an Ashkan Dejagah corner with a powerful header. ¬†Pouraliganji has now scored in the last two competitive matches where he has been included in the starting line-up – a very impressive record for a defender.
Despite the advantage and total dominance over their opponents, Iran’s attacks seemed hurried for the remainder of the half and the countless volleys into the Turkmen box from the wings were either marred by poor finishing or repelled by a determined Turkmen backline.
Carlos Queiroz made some intelligent tactical changes at halftime that included the addition of Alireza Jahanbakhsh in place of Vahid Amiri in order to shift focus from the wings into piercing the Turkmen wall through the center by creating shooting chances inside and at the edge of the opponent’s box.
As suggested in the last article of this series, that calmer approach to maintain possession and pounce on Turkmenistan’s defensive lapses paid off and within 12 minutes of the restart Iran created three excellent chances hitting the post twice in the process.
But the poor finishing of Ashkan Dejagah, Kaveh Rezaei and Mehdi Torabi who have a combined total of one goal from open play in competitive matches for Iran since 2013 – against minnows Guam two months ago – prevented Iran from doubling or even tripling its lead.
As the fans were questioning the effectiveness of Team Melli’s offensive line, it was the inclusion of Team Melli’s custodian Alireza Haghighi that proved fatal once again as defender Mekan Sepanow pounced on Haghighi’s failed exit to convert a 62nd minute corner and tie the match.
This marked Haghighi’s third consecutive mistake in as many matches resulting in three goals against Team Melli. Haghighi who has played only one league game this season and conceded two goals, was the lowest ranked player in the match against Japan and has not received a passing grade from the PFDC community since the India match.
The fans’ despair was thankfully short lived and rising star and talented 19 year old midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi restored Iran’s lead two minutes later when he sidestepped three Turkmen defenders to place a perfect shot from the edge of the box into the left side of the overstretched Mammet Orazmuhammedow.
The goal, which was Ezatolahi’s first for Team Melli in his first ever start in a competitive match, sent the stadium into a frenzy and with the cameras’ occasional glances at the inspirational Alborz mountains in the background, the fans at home knew the match had been catapulted beyond the reach of Turkmenistan.
Queiroz, responding to the ground shaking noise and energy inside the stadium to push forward for more goals, gave marching orders to striker Reza Ghoochannejhad – affectionately referred to as “Gucci” by Team Melli fans – to replace Kaveh Rezaei in the 75th minute.
And it did not take Gucci long to prove why he should be Queiroz’s top choice for a striker going forward. Within only 7 minutes and barely a few touches on the ball, he forced a penalty in the 82nd minute that Ashkan Dejagah easily converted into a goal to seal the victory for Iran.
Team Melli had little time to celebrate the result and was bussed to the airport right after the match to embark on an arduous two day journey to the Pacific island of Guam for a clash on November 17th, with countless visa issues still overshadowing the trip.
Despite the problems and the missing personnel for that match, Team Melli will have their sights on another high margin victory after bottom placed India defeated Guam 1-0 in the other match of the day in Group D to finally register some points in this campaign.
Iran Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Alireza Haghighi (GK), Ehsan Hajsafi (LB), Morteza Pouraliganji (CB) Ezzatollah Pourghaz (CB), Ramin Rezaian (RD), Omid Ebrahimi (DM), Saeid Ezatolahi (DM), Vahid Amiri (LAM), Ashkan Dejagah (CAM), Mehdi Torabi (RAM), Kaveh Rezaei (F).
Substitutions: Alireza Jahanbakhsh for Vahid Amiri (45+1), Reza Ghoochannejhad for Kaveh Rezaei (75), Kamalleddin Kamyabinia for Saeid Ezatolahi (81)
Turkmenistan Starting Lineup (4-5-1): Mammet Orazmuhammedow, Shohrat Suynov, Makan Saprow, Arslanmyrat Amanov, Bahtiyar Hojaahmedov, Suleyman Muhadov, Guvanch Abylow, Serdar Annaorazov, Umidjan Astanov, Ahmet Atayev, Sardad Geldiev
PFDC Player Ratings*
Saeid Ezatolahi: 8.0 (MOTM)
Morteza Pouraliganji: 6.7
Omid Ebrahimi: 6.5
Reza Ghoochannejhad: 6.4
Alireza Jahanbakhsh: 6.3
Mehdi Torabi: 6.1
Kamal Kamyabinia: 5.9
Ramin Rezaeian: 5.8
Ezzatollah Pourghaz: 5.6
Vahid Amiri: 5.5
Ehsan Hajsafi: 4.8
Kaveh Rezaei: 4.7
Ashkan Dejagah: 4.4
Alireza Haghighi: 2.0
*Note: Average ratings for each player from the PFDC community (1-10).
Match highlights with Persian commentary: