Iran remain in the hunt for a spot at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ as a second-half wonder strike by Ali Karimi earned them a 1-0 defeat of United Arab Emirates in Tehran today. Needing a win to keep alive any realistic hope of qualifying for their third FIFA World Cup in four attempts, Afshin Ghotbi's team were continually frustrated by their visitors' defence and goalkeeper Majed Naser.
But Karimi eased the concerns of the home fans at the Azadi Stadium with a classy winning goal in the 53rd minute. It was only the second win in Group B for the Iranians, which elevated them to ten points, one behind both Korea DPR and Saudi Arabia, who meet next Wednesday in Riyadh.
Iran can ensure at least a play-off spot with victory at the already-qualified Korea Republic in their final Group B game. An away win and a draw in Riyadh would even see them finish second, giving them an automatic berth in South Africa.
Entering the match with only one win in six group games, Iran immediately set to make things right, threatening in the opening minute when Vahid Hashemian chested down Karimi's cross in the box but fired his effort straight at goalkeeper Majed Naser. In the tenth minute, Hashemian rose to meet Pejman Nouri's cross from the left but sent his header wide.
UAE rarely threatened in the opening half but on one of their rare attacks, Nawaf Mubarak nearly opened the scoring with a free-kick which was deflected wide. Javad Nekounam saw his header stopped by Naser, while Masoud Shojaei's shot deflected off a defender and flew over the crossbar.
Half-time substitute Mohammad Khalatbari almost broke the deadlock early in the second half when his header off a Nouri cross was superbly stopped by Naser.
The home side's frustrations were finally ended eight minutes after the interval by a fine individual effort by Karimi. Receiving a pass from Andranik Teymourian in midfield, the Persepolis midfielder displayed great control and composure to take the ball into the box, holding off a couple of challenges before slotting the ball home.
UAE threatened on the hour when Abdulsalam Jumma's shot from 20 metres was easily stopped by goalkeeper Seyed Rahmati. But it was the Iranians who had the better of the opportunities as the clock ticked down.
Arash Borhani failed to get enough purchase on an effort which was cleared off the line by Obaid Khaleifa, and with six minute remaining, Hossein Kaebi made a brilliant run in from the right flank before firing a low shot that rolled narrowly past the upright.