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Iran restore Asian pride, but still hard to see Asian presence in last 16 | Coastweek

SAINT PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- The referee gives a yellow card to Iran’s Masoud Shojaei [center left] during a group B match between Morocco and Iran at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 15, 2018. XINHUA PHOTO - LU JINBO


Iran restore Asian pride, but still hard
to see Asian presence in last 16

by Paul Giblin MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- The 2014 World Cup saw Asian teams fail to win a single game and after just two days of the 2018 World Cup, observers must be starting to wonder if something similar might happen in 2018.

The World Cup could hardly have got off to a better off-field start with the news that the number of Asian representatives will increase from 5 (including Australia) in 2018 to 8 in 2026.

However, on the pitch it was a different matter as Saudi Arabia were thrashed 5-0 in the opening game by hosts Russia and although the Russians were clearly inspired by a passionate home crowd, the Saudi display was tepid to say the least and even prompted Chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority, Turki al-Sheikh to publicly accuse the players of "giving just 5 percent effort".

Things changed on Friday when Iran, who only conceded 5 goals in 18 qualifying games and drew against Argentina and Nigeria in the 2014 World Cup, again showed they are a tough side to beat, had a stroke of fortune when an injury time own goal gave them a 1-0 win against Morocco.

That goal meant Carlos Queiroz’s men become the first Asian side to win a game in the World Cup finals since Japan beat Denmark in a group match in South Africa on June 24th 2010, and it sparked off wild celebrations among the Iranian supporters in Saint Petersburg.

What made the win all the more amazing was that it came at the end of a second half where no Iranian player managed a shot on target and in truth, although tough to beat, Iran did little to show they are capable of reaching the last 16 ahead of their other group rivals, Spain or Portugal.

The other Asian sides are also going to have to dig deep if they are to make it into the last 16: South Korea, who have perhaps the best Asian player in the tournament in Son Hueng-Min, have a tough group including current World Champions, Germany, Mexico and the tough-to-beat Sweden.

Japan meanwhile are in Group H and have to contend with the flair of Colombia, a Senegal side that is going to focus on attack and Poland, who have Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski as their main man.

Japan and South Korea have hardly inspired confidence in their preparations for Russia with the Japanese beaten 2-0 by both Switzerland and Ghana (who failed to qualify for the tournament), before defeating Paraguay, arguably the weakest side in South America on June 12th.

South Korea meanwhile may have defeated Honduras 2-0, but then lost 3-1 to Bosnia and Herzegovina, before a 0-0 draw against Bolivia (neither of whom will be in Russia) and a 2-0 defeat to Senegal, which could be a warning for what Japan might expect against the Africans.

The fifth ‘Asian’ qualifier, Australia will have to battle it out against France, Denmark and Peru and don’t look to have the quality to progress from Group C (and let’s be honest Australia is Oceania anyhow).

So although Iran have restored some Asian pride after 8 long years, there is still a real chance that just as in 2014, the only Asian representatives in the last 16 of the tournament will be supporters in the stands.


Moroccan’s own goal brings Iran second victory in World Cup history

SAINT PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- Iran won the second victory in its World Cup history here on Friday evening in a dramatic way, after Moroccan substitute Aziz Bouhaddouz headed the ball into his own net.

In what seemed to be one of only a few decent deliveries just one minute before conclusion of the match, Iran’s Ehsan Haji Safi curled a last-moment free-kick, only to be met by the Moroccan forward, who dashed across to send the ball right into the gate.

That dreadful mistake, to the astonishment of more than 62,500 audiences in Saint Petersburg Stadium, put a seal on the first match in Group B, as well as Morocco’s unbeaten record of 18 games.

It also sent Iran, which reached consecutive World Cups only for first time, one step closer to the knockout stage that they had never been to before.

In the two team’s first encounter on the World Cup stage, the Atlas Lions enjoyed a comfortable start, dominating the pitch and controlling the tempo, while Iranian goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand impressed spectators with his heroic saves amid scramble.

Iran, on the other hand, gradually got better after the first 20 minutes.

The best chance for them came several minutes before the break, when Sardar Azmoun fired close to scoring after dribbling past defenders.

The second half saw numerous stoppages of injuries and bickers.

A highlight came on the 79th minute, when Moroccan midfielder Hakim Ziyach received the ball from Younes Belhanda and hit a stinging effort. But Beiranvand was brisk enough to catch it.

Morocco, who have waited for 20 years to be qualified for the World Cup again, will be facing a grim situation, against the reigning European champion Portugal and 2010 World Cup winner Spain in the next two group matches.



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