July 20, 2024
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PersianFootball.com (Doha) – Team Melli Omid registered a brilliant start to the 2016 AFC U-23 Champsionship in Doha by defeating Syria 2-0 in a near replay of the WAFF [West Asian Football Federation] U-23 final between the two teams three months ago.

The Syrians seem to have exaggerated their injury woes before the match and were without the services of only one player – Ahmad Al Kaddour – instead of the five that were originally ruled out. The starting lineup for Syria also included 6 of the 11 starters at the WAFF U23 final.

Meanwhile, Iranian coach Mohammad Khakpour opted to employ the core squad from that match with the addition of Team Melli star Mehdi Torabi on the right wing and a starting, rather than substitute role for man of the last match Milad Mohammadi on the left wing.

Vahid Heidarieh also started for the more adventurous Reza Aliari in left defense signalling that the first half would most likely be a cautious affair. Wrapping up the changes from the last squad was Farshid Esmaeili who replaced Reza Karmolchaab as an attacking midfielder – the latter having been left out of the squad for this tournament.

Although this match proved to be a tough physical test for Team Melli Omid, much like the last encounter, Iran maintained much more possession this time and dominated extended periods of the first half, frustrating the Syrians to draw two yellow cards.

The first serious threat on either goal was from an Iranian free kick in the 13th minute. Ali Karimi beautifully curled his shot around the Syrian wall, forcing an excellent one-handed save from keeper Abdul Latif Nassan.

With the ball still in play and the Syrian defense in disarray, Milad Mohammadi created some space for himself to launch a powerful shot at the left post, only to see it miss by inches. Six minutes later it Was Mehdi Torabi who created some space to put a low cross onto the path of Farshid Esmaeili who missed the target from only 8 yards out.

With the teams locked into a stalemate, neither was able to create more chances in the 1st half and the start of the 2nd half saw even more physical play from Syria and another yellow card. With the Syrians trying to gain control and their corner count increasing, Milad Kamandani received orders in the 56th minute to replace Farshid Esmaeili.

And it took Kamandani less than 2 minutes to make his mark when he side stepped a Syrian defender to lay out a beautiful pass to Ali Karimi on the left wing. Karimi’s low cross forced another save from Nassan but Mehdi Torabi missed the rebound from the edge of the 6 yard box.

Six minutes later it was Kamandani again with a beautiful through ball to Arsalan Motahhari who zoomed past two Syrian defenders and around another one, to cooly slot the ball into the Syrian net with his left foot, much to the delight of the few Iranian fans in the stadium.

Syria finally managed to get a shot on target in the 70th minute, but Iranian keeper Mohammadreza Akhbari was equal to the task and comfortably punched the ball over the net. Syria’s first and only real chance of the match made the Iranian resolve that much stronger to put the match beyond reach.

Two minutes later, in a mirror play of the 2nd goal against Syria in the WAFF U-23 final where Motahhari connected with a low cross from Mohammadi from the left side, it was Mohammadi this time who connected with a low cross from Motahhari from the right side to score Iran’s second and wrap up the match.

Motahhari forced another save from Nassan in the 78th minute with a powerful shot from the edge of the box, albeit from a tight angle. And a minute later it was Mohammadi with a powerful shot that went just inches wide of Nassan’s right post.

Overall, Team Melli Omid dominated the match and created plenty of opportunities to take 3 valuable points from a hard-fought and physical match against a higher ranked team and the fans should be thoroughly satisfied with a tactically superior performance and the patient build-ups that are a welcome departure from the performance of the team in the qualifiers.

In the other match of Group A, hosts Qatar came back from a goal down to defeat an undisciplined and physically depleted Chinese team by a score of 3-1, setting up an exciting clash with Iran on Friday at 19:30 local time [17:30 CET, 11:30 EST].

A victory for Iran in that match will all but guarantee that Team Melli Omid will finish on top of Group A and face an easier path in the knock-out round by playing the runner-up from Group B which includes Japan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.

Iran Formation: 4-2-3-1 (4-1-4-1 from minute 56)

Iran Starting Line-up: Mohammadreza Akhbari (G), Ali Abdollahzadeh (D), Roozbeh Cheshmi (D), Mohammad Daneshgar (D), Vahid Heidarieh (D), Ali Karimi (DM), Alireza Naghizadeh (DM), Mehdi Torabi (AM), Farshid Esmaeili (AM), Milad Mohammadi (AM), Arsalan Motahhari (F). Coach: Mohammad Khakpour


56′: Milad Kamandani (AM) for Farshid Esmaeili
88′: Ehsan Pahlevan (AM) for Mehdi Torabi
90+1′: Mehrdad Mohammadi (AM) for Milad Mohammadi

Extended Highlights [Persian Commentary]