Iran extend regional dominance

Iran secured a record ninth Asian Futsal Championship title courtesy of a 4-0 victory over Thailand, whose consolation for defeat in the final is a place alongside their conquerors, third-placed Japan and China PR at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008, which will begin on 30 September. The Iranians dominated the competition en route to retaining the title, which has only evaded them on one occasion, when Japan seized gold in 2006.

The final, which pitted the defending champions against the hosts, was one Iran coach Hossein Shams expected even before the tournament got underway. "I think we will meet Japan in the semi-finals while Thailand play Uzbekistan. Then there will be an Iran-Thailand final," he predicted.

Having scored an incredible 44 times to reach the deciding match, Iran's touch did not desert them against Thailand, with a Vahid Shamsaee double and efforts from Majid Latifi and skipper Mohammad Reza Heidarain sealing a 4-0 success. Shamsaee, who finished up with 13 goals to his name, pocketed both the top scorer and MVP awards.

"Apparently Thailand performed better than before," coach Shams reflected. "But we put the game under control. And even though we should have scored more, we just wanted to be sure about everything."

Chinese emergence
If the sight of Iran atop of the podium came as little surprise, the identity of one of the semi-finalists did cause a stir. China were expected to fall to Uzbekistan in their quarter-final, but the East Asians upset their rivals 4-1 to book a first-ever place at the FIFA Futsal World Cup.

The Chinese, under Brazilian coach Farinha, got their campaign off to a flying start by beating Tajikistan 9-0, before an 8-1 reverse by Iran in their ensuing fixture dampened their spirits. However, China responded by putting nine unanswered goals past Kuwait in their final group game to bank a meeting with Uzbekistan, which they won.

Thereafter, China twice came from behind to share six goals with Japan heading into the final minutes of their third-place match, but two late goals from Komiyama Yusuke proved to be their undoing. It was insufficient, however, to spoil their delight at booking a trip to Brazil.

"Eventually we qualified for the World Cup and it is difficult to say anything, especially after beating a team like Uzbekistan," said an emotional Farinha. "I just want to thank the players for four months' hard word. It was the team work that made the difference this time around."