Iran almost became the victims of one of the greatest shocks in Asian Cup history but were saved by the head of Ali Daei as they drew their match with Thailand 1-1 in Beirut’s City Sportive.
Thailand stunned one of the Asian Cup favourites by taking the lead through Sakesan Pituratana after just 12 minutes and only conceded the equalizer 17 minutes from the end.
With most people expecting Thailand to be like lambs to the slaughter after the way they performed in their 2-0 defeat against Iraq, no one was more surprised than the Iranians when the Thais scored in their first genuine attack of the match.
The architect was Sutee Suksomkit who got behind the Iranian defence and drove a cross low and hard towards the edge of the six-yard box. Parviz Boroumand in the Iranian goal got a hand to the ball at full stretch but only pushed it into the path of Sakesan. Sakesan, who was one of four changes to the Thai starting line-up, was left with a simple tap in into an empty net.
Iran immediately pushed forward and Daei was close with a header and was only denied by Surachai Jirasirichote’s cover tackle all within two minutes of the goal. But it seemed that the shock of the goal got to the Iranians and for the rest of the half they were unrecognizable from the team that scored four against Lebanon.
The space that Thailand were finding was at times unbelievable. Sutee exploited it in the 22nd minute only to see his shot strike Hamedani’s chest. An even better opportunity died in it’s infancy when in a 2 v 1 situation the ball was spread wide when Sakesan would have been through on goal if it had been passed to him.
Iran meanwhile resorted more and more on long balls aimed at the head of Daei, and while the Hertha Berlin striker battled manfully he was well marshalled by Surachai Jirasirichote, Chukiat Noosalung and Choketawee Promrut in the Thai defence.
Such was the concern of Iranian coach Jalal Talebi that he brought on Alireza Emamifar for Hamidreza Estili five minutes before half-time.
Needless to say Iran were far better organized and for the first time in the match they started to put some real pressure on the Thai goal, although they still managed to look vulnerable to the counter attack.
In the 60th minute Thai keeper Phansa Meesattam was beaten by Daei’s shot from 10 yards, but Niweat Siriwong had backed onto the far post and cleared off the line. Six minutes later the pressure showed as Phansa dropped a high cross under Daei’s challenge and Choketawee was forced to clear Ali Karimi’s goal-bound shot.
At the other end Sutee twice got himself into shooting positions on the counter-attack, but each time failed to hit the target.
Then in the 74th minute Iran finally drew level. Karimi, a second half substitute for Mehrdad Minavand was fouled midway into the Thai half. Khodadad Azizi whipped the free-kick into the box and Daei showed exactly why he is the current Sanyo Asian Player of the Year by rising above everyone to head into the bottom left hand corner of Phansa’s goal.
Far from this being a signal for Iran to take control of the match, it was the Thais who almost scored the winner. Tananchai Boriban crossed from the right and Sakesan’s glancing header only just went the wrong side of the far post.