Dominant Iran see off UAE
© AFP

A dominant Iran cruised past the United Arab Emirates 3-0 at the AFC Asian Cup Wednesday to finish the group stage as the only side with a 100 per cent record.

Striker Arash Afshin opened the scoring in the 70th minute only to be sent off for a fierce challenge on UAE goalkeeper Majed Naser minutes later. Mohammad Nori doubled their lead on 83 minutes and UAE defender Walid Abbas scored into his own net three minutes into stoppage time as Team Melli chalked up their third straight win in Group D.

After Iran secured a quarter-final spot against South Korea with wins over old foes Iraq and FIFA World Cup™ returnee North Korea, coach Afshin Ghotbi fielded four players for the first time in the tournament. He rested Gholam Reza Rezaei, Karim Ansari Fard and Iman Mobali who scored a goal each in the last two matches.

in the second half, we really showed quality.
Iran coach Ghotbi

"I'm very happy about the performance of our players. We had many players for whom it was their first official international match," Ghotbi said. "As a coach, to give them an opportunity was wonderful to do. I think, especially in the second half, we really showed quality."

UAE's Slovenian coach Srecko Katenic, whose side ended the group stage without scoring a goal with two defeats in one draw, said: "We were really without five per cent of luck. We played very strong in this group. But we must work hard as this is our level today."

In the first minute at Qatar Sports Club, Iran captain and Osasuna striker Masoud Shojai had the opening chance of the game, sending his free-kick from 30 metres into Naser's arms. UAE captain Subait Khater, meanwhile, saw his own 30-metre free kick find its way into the hands of Iran's second-choice custodian Khosro Heidari soon after.

On the break in the 18th minute, UAE striker Ismael Matar should have scored, trapping a cross on the edge of the box to face Heidari one-on-one, but his right-foot shot swerved toward the near side of the net. The UAE squandered another chance five minutes later when Ahmed Khalil's header bounced short on a goalmouth cross from Khalid Sebil.

Iran's offensive machine shifted into gear on the half hour as Nori's left foot unleashed a screamer from the edge of the penalty area but it zipped off the left post. Two minutes later, Ehsan Haji Safi caught a long pass on the right edge of the box and shot through two defenders into the side of the net.

On the stroke of half-time, Matar caught the ball on the left and weaved past two defenders but his shot flew off the far-side post.

Reza Rezaei and Mobali were sent in after the interval to boost the Iranian offensive and in the 52nd minute Reza Rezaei fed a right cross to Mohammad Gholami who slapped the ball too straight to deceive Naser. Naser again responded quickly to deflect Ghasem Hadadifar's one-touch left-foot volley from outside the box on a throw-in on the hour mark.

Arash Afshin finally drew first blood on 70 minutes in a run of Iran's fierce goalmouth attacks. Mohammad Gholami headed a right cross against the bar and headed the rebound off the bar again. Afshin picked up the ball and slotted in past Naser. Only three minutes later, Afshin was sent off following a violent aerial challege to the UAE goalkeeper inside the box.

Iran's second goal came in a flowing attack as Nori latched onto a wall pass against Heidari and banged home past Naser. As the clock ticked into stoppage time, Abbas shot into his own net in trying to clear a long ball on an Iranian counter-attack and to make matters worse Khalid Sebil was sent off late on to cap a miserable night for UAE.