In a decisive match at the Nimibutr Stadium, Iran made sure of second place in Group B in a thrilling encounter as they defeated Panama 4-3 at Nimibutr Stadium.
Before the game, only one point separated the respective teams. Both knew that a win would secure a place in the next round, so it was a predictably nervy encounter.
Iran took the lead in the fourth minute when Ali Hassanzadeh’s shot cannoned off the post and fell kindly for Ahmad Esmaeilpour whose first-time shot flew into the net.
Two minutes later, Panama drew level when Apolinar Galvez’s cheeky back heel found Claudio Goodridge who fired home a powerful shot.
The west Asians regained the upper hand as the half drew to a close. Afshin Kazemi put them back in front with a well-worked goal and Mohammad Taheri gave them a two-goal cushion on the stroke of half-time.
With five minutes to go Panama were literally handed a lifeline. Hamid Ahmadi’s handball in the box gave them a penalty and Carlos Perez made no mistake from the resulting spot-kick.
Understandably, Panama were pushing for the equaliser but in doing so left gaps at the back, which Iran were able to exploit. Taheri grabbed his second of the evening with a powerful shot, but the side from CONCACAF refused to give up.
They made it 4-3 with just 39 seconds on the clock when Alquis Alvarado netted and there was still drama to come when Mostafa Nazari saved in the final second to ensure Iran made it through to finish as Group F’s second placed team.
However, there was some consolation for Panama as they too qualified for the knockout phase as one of the best third placed teams.
“This game was as physical as we expected. We had our chances to win by a bigger margin, but we were not able to score partly because of Panama defence. I believe all teams have learn how to defend, and it's harder and harder to score goals," Ali Sanei, Iran coach.
“We didn’t even dream about this, advancing to the next round in a World Cup in our first time of being here. The chance of qualifying was a pressure my players did not expect to face, and that is why we were not up to our usual level. The important thing then was not to let the scoreline get too big. Now we are ready for anything," Agustin Campuzano, Panama coach.