The managerless Iranians, boasting a star-studded line-up including Bolton Wanderers midfielder Andranik Teymourian and Eintracht Frankfurt winger Mehdi Mahdavikia, again disappointed fans with a disorganised performance. The home side failed to convert what few chances they had in a fractious game in sub-freezing temperatures at Tehran's gigantic Azadi stadium that saw five yellow cards.
The Syrian players withstood several Iranian attacks in the last few minutes and hugged each other and jumped for joy after the final whistle sounded. Mehdi Rajabzadeh went close for Iran with a 63rd-minute free-kick that skidded over the crossbar but the Iranians created few problems for the Syrian defence, despite having by far the most possession.
The insipid performance continued Iran's poor form over recent years and betrayed the effects of having no head coach to prepare for the first qualifier. The Iranian football federation last month named Spanish coach Javier Clemente as the new national team coach but it has now emerged he is yet to sign a final contract.
Clemente, who was picked by Iran after being sacked by Serbia for failing to lead their national side to UEFA EURO 2008, watched the Syria game from the stands and did not join the other coaching staff on the bench. According to the Iranian sports press, the finalising of the contract is being held up by Clemente's insistence he does not live in Iran but merely visits for coaching sessions and games.
In addition to having coached Serbia, Clemente led his former
club Athletic Bilbao to two Spanish La Liga titles and manager of
Spain during both the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cups and during EURO
Iran's group includes Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates as well as Syria. The next phase will include more group matches from which four Asian sides will qualify directly for South Africa 2010.