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Perfect start for Team Melli in AFC Asian Cup

 Team Melli defeated Bahrain 2-0 lead in the first match for the two teams in group C of the Asian cup. The goals scored in the dying seconds of the first half by Eshasan Hajsafi , while Masoud Shojaei made it 2-0 in the 71st minute in the second half..

Carlos Queiroz started with the nucleus of the world Cup team with two exceptions. Morteza Pouralganji and Vouriya Ghafoori were replacing Khosro Heydari and Amir Hossein Sadeghi in the defense line

hajsafy-scores-vs-Bahrain
Hajsafy’s strike seconds after his shoot floats over towards the goal.

The Iranian fans in the Melbourne created a wonderful atmosphere turning the Rectangle stadium into what the  Australian TV commentator called a “Mini Azadi”. The vociferous fans loud chant was only challenged by a very whistle happy Australian referee whose continuous whistling threatened to spoil what was an intriguing encounter. Both teams started lively sharing possessions without creating any serious scoring chances.

Ashkan Dejagah was by far the most active of Iran’s players on the right flank. He managed to give the Bahrain defense some real work out, however the ex- Fulham player delivery and finishing were quite poor in comparison to his skills and work rate . He missed a glorious chance to give Iran the lead when Hajsafy put him through with a brilliant pass in the box ,

Ashkan only managed to find Bahrain Keeper Seyed Jaffar’s legs instead while he had better options including squaring to unmarked Ghoochannejad,

The game went on with Iran having a strong grip on the match but the end product was lacking despite being the more controlling side.

And then came a brilliant piece of work by Ehsan Haj Safi from a corner kick in the finals seconds of the half.  Teymourian’s floating corner kick, was too close to   Bahrain Keeper Seyed Jaffar who ball punched  it away only to find Hajsafy. The Sepahan midfielder controlled the ball with a perfect touch before he chips a wonderful ball with side footing over a crowd of players in front of the goal into the net. A truly wonderful strike by one of the two best Iran players of the half.

 The first half ended 1-0

Shojaei sidefoots his shoot towards the far end of Bahrain keeper
Shojaei sidefoots his shoot towards the far end of Bahrain keeper

The second half continued with the rhythm of the first with both teams playing openly. The first real threat came from Bahrain on the stroke of the hour when Alireza Haghighi mad his first save of the match from a powerful strike by Bahrain’s Jessi John , whose ferocious shot was deflected by Iran’s keeper. However , 10 minutes later Haghighi left the crowd ins suspense and anxiety for a few seconds when he collected a ball and then ran into Bahrain’s Fouzi Aaish who dropped on the ground. The referee whistled for a foul, thankfully it was against Bahrain player who protested and was clearly upset at the decision. The replay clearly showed that it was in fact Haghighi who charged into Aayesh. Hs indiscretion and foolish act could have been quite costly except for the mercy of the Aussie referee.

Not long after that incident , Iranian fans were relieved to see Team Melli scoring again. in the 71st minute Masoud Shojaei , whose contribution to the team up to that moment was absolutely minimal , scored from another corner kick. The floating ball was sent to the left corner of the stretched arms of Bahrain keeper to end up in the net. 2-0 for Iran

With the 2 goal margin , Team Melli opted to control the match leaving the Bahraini team to venture forward. Queiroz introduced his new players , with Azmoun , Jahanbakhsh and finally Soroush Rafei coming into the game. Although their contribution were minimal , it gave the team a new look and certainly raised the confidence of the young players.

Despite Bahrain’s gallant attempts , except for one case where Haghighi had to deflect a shot into a corner, Iran defense remained solid and intact. The rookie Pouraliganji was superb in partnering the veteran Hosseini in the middle of the defense, Ghafoori on the right flank was also a revelation while Pooladi was the same solid defender of the World Cup games.

The lack of creativity on the midfield was quite evident. Nekounam and Teymourin doing their routine defensive duties and hardly venturing towards opposition territories. Masoud Shojaei , as poor as always and looked like a lost figure in the midfield simply walking the match off , while leaving the bulk of the offensive load on Hajsafy and Dejagah to feed Team Melli’s lone forward Reza Ghoochannejad who was trapped between 5 Bahrain defenders.

 Despite all the preparations problems and many side issues that the team and coach Queiroz had to endure with , this was perfect start for Team Melli . There was the obvious shortcomings but at the end of the day , Iran had the higher quality and experience to finish the match on winning all the 3 points and deservedly so.

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