Group co-leaders Iran's plans of getting full points against hosts UAE were dashed when they were held to a 1-1 draw by the bottom-placed team in their Group 2 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa qualifier™ on Wednesday.
The visitors were completely dominated at the Al Maktoum Stadium and it was only a late goal against the run of play which fetched them a point. They will also have goalkeeper Seyed Rahmati to thank for several magical saves.
UAE, who lost two key players, Ali Abbas and Subait Khater, even before the match began when they were penalised for breaking team curfew, took the lead in the 19th minute through their captain Abdulraheem Jumaa. Iran captain Karim Bagheri who restored parity for his side in the 80th minute.
It was UAE's first point in the qualifiers in four matches, while Iran now have five points from their three. In the group's other match on Wednesday, Korea Republic beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 in Riyadh to stay top with seven points.
"It was a match we should have won," said UAE captain Jumaa. "It is really disappointing to have played so well and yet settle for just one point. It really makes our chances to qualify that much more difficult. But all I can say is that we will give it our best shot."
Iran's Bagheri said: "We knew this would be a difficult match for us. The UAE are a good side and they fought very hard. We would have wanted to take full three points from this match, but will now have to beat South Korea to make sure we are on track for South Africa."
UAE went ahead in the 19th minute when star striker Ismail Mattar shrugged off a defender on the right corner of the box and provided a measured pass to captain Jumaa, who made no mistake in drilling it past Rahmati.
Iran could have pulled level on the 26th minute when Masoud Shojaei blasted his shot from less than three metres from the post straight into UAE goalkeeper Majed Naser's body. However, the assistant referee had already ruled Shojaei offside.
UAE could have easily increased their lead in the 31st minute when Mattar was brought down just outside the box. The resultant free kick was taken by Nawaf Mubarak, and his outstanding effort curled dangerously toward the right post before Rahmati stopped it with a brilliant diving effort.
Rahmati was forced to make another diving stop in the 43rd minute, when Ismail Al Hammadi made a solo effort from the left wing, weaved past two defenders and unleashed a quick, on-the-turn right-foot shot.
The hosts completely dominated the second half from the start, with Mattar repeatedly threatening the goal. The UAE striker was twice brought down just outside the box by defender Pirouz Ghorbani as he made four attempts in less than six minutes.
Iran finally found their form only after getting a freekick right at the edge of the penalty area in the 74th minute, and Naser did well to tip over a measured chip by Shojaei. The Iranians restored parity in the 80th minute when captain Bagheri latched on to a good cross by Shojaei from the right and headed past Naser.
Both teams had chances in the stoppage time. First Jumaa needed to beat just the advancing Rahmati, but shot straight into him. And a minute later, Gholamreza Rezaei was in a similar position before Naser dived in front of him and denied him a chance to flick it past him.