Iran boosted their chances of clinching an automatic berth from Asia at next year’s World Cup finals with a 1-0 win over Qatar in their crucial qualifying game here on Tuesday.
Iranian-Dutch striker Reza Nournia struck the vital goal in the 66th minute to end 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar’s hopes of reaching the finals.
It was the first time Iran had beaten Qatar in four qualifying matches for the Brazil tournament.
Their three previous matches, including two in the third and penultimate phase of qualifying, had ended in draws.
Tuesday’s victory took Iran to 10 points in group A, and with two more games in hand, the Asian giants look set for their fourth appearance in the World Cup finals.
Qatar’s already slim hopes of qualifying for football’s showpiece event depended on a victory over Iran, and for the better part of the first half they appeared on course with speedy moves that occasionally caught the Iranians napping.
Former Asian Player of the Year Khalfan Ibrahim came close to beating the Iranian defence on a couple of occasions, but Qatar’s first real chance came in the 30th minute when Hassan Haydos found himself clear just inside the penalty area. However, much to Qatar’s dismay his cracking shot slammed the crossbar.
Qatar goalkeeper Qassem Burhan then brought off two splendid saves in quick succession — blocking a dipping free-kick from 25 yards by Masoud Shojaei and then producing a reflex save to stop a Nournia header from close range.
Iran,however, moved up a gear in the second-half. Playing with more purpose and speed they kept probing at the Qatari defence and eventually it cracked under pressure when a move initiated by Qatar-based Andranik Teymourian saw the ball come Nournia’s way and the former Dutch under-19 international made no mistake from close range.
Qatar tried their best to get the equaliser but the Iranians held firm to deny the hosts
The match was played against the backdrop of political tensions over Qatar and Iran’s role in the Syrian crisis, but fans, including several hundred expat Iranians, were generally well behaved.