Iran Coach: Miroslav Blazevic
Ireland Coach: Mick McCarthy
Ireland reached the World Cup finals for the first time since 1994 despite a 1-0 loss Thursday to Iran, advancing on a 2-1 aggregate in their second-leg playoff before 100,000 disappointed fans at Azadi Stadium.
After a scoreless 90 minutes, Iran's Yahya Golmohammadi scored on a close-in header off a free kick just over a minute into injury time.
A lackluster first half brightened after the break with Iran mounting repeated scoring threats against goalkeeper Shay Given and a staunch Irish defense content to hang on to their first-leg advantage.
Ireland is the 31st of 32 teams to qualify of next summer's South Korea-Japan World Cup. The final place will be decided in a two-legged playoff Nov. 20 and 25 between Uruguay and Australia.
Iran reached the World Cup finals four years ago to go with an appearance in 1978. Ireland also qualified in 1990 and reached the quarterfinals.
Ireland manager Mick McCarthy, holding back tears after the victory, had trouble expressing himself.
"I might articulate it better tomorrow," he said.
"A hard man's gone soft here. What do you expect? It's been a long time. It's fabulous stuff. The players deserve it as much if not more than me."
Frustrated fans toward the end of the match burned game programs, lit fires in the stands, and threw exploding fireworks toward the pitch.
"It's great to see them doing that because it means we're through," he said. "They probably would have treated us a lot better if we hadn't. You have to put up with things like that. What a wonderful, wonderful campaign."
"It doesn't matter that we lost. I'm really proud of myself and my team. We're through."
The first 20 minutes were drab with neither team offering much, perhaps feeling the initial pressure. A huge banner strung across one end of the stadium read 3-0 -- the score that would have allowed Iran to make the finals.
The only scoring chance for either team in the first half came in the 34th when Ali Karimi headed just wide from seven meters (yards) before a subdued Iranian crowd.
Iran had its second chance in the 52nd when Ali Daei took a cross in the box and shot just wide from 16 meters (yards). A minute later David Connolly had Ireland's best chance of the game, but hit the side netting.
In the 56th, Karim Bagheri fired a low, left-footed shot that Given sprawled to save with the Irish 'keeper Given getting quickly to his feet to foil Daei lurking to poke home the rebound.
In the 66th, Given again played the angle perfectly to deflect away a 25-meter (yard) drive from Mehrdad Minavand. In the 80th, Mehdi Mahdavikia slid the ball through the area and just behind Daei's outstretched foot.
Ireland has only two previous World Cup appearances -- 1990 and '94. The Irish reached the quarterfinal in '90 in Italy.
Iran qualified for the World Cup finals in 1978 and '98. Its only victory in six games in the finals was 2-1 against the United States four years ago.
The streets of the capital of 10 million were deserted throughout the match with few cars on the road and almost everyone at home watching on Iran's channel 3.
More than 90,000 fans jammed the stadium with about 1,000 Irish supporters on hand. Two dozen Irish women also attended wearing loose coats and headscarves to conform with Iran's Islamic dress code for women.
Irish fans arrived at stadium in buses under police escort and took seats in one section of the stadium. Police have blocked Iranian fans from approaching the Irish fans.
Iran coach looks set to quit
Iran's Croatian coach Miroslav Blazevic looked set to quit on Thursday after failing to qualify for the World Cup finals.
Blazevic said: "We missed a lot of opportunities and only took advantage of one. I can only say that I am sorry. I understand the fans' feelings and share those feelings.
"I have become attached to the Iranian team but have to leave now."
Irish cheer playoff win
DUBLIN, Ireland -- Much of Ireland took the afternoon off work Thursday to watch the country's soccer team qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
Thousands of fans packed into Dublin pubs and sports bars to watch live television coverage of the match against Iran in Tehran.
Despite losing 1-0, the Irish advanced on the strength of a 2-0 win in the first leg Saturday in Dublin. It will be Ireland's first appearance in soccer's showcase event since 1994.
Sweaty crowds in Shooters Sports Bar, including nurses from the nearby Mater and Rotunda hospitals of north Dublin, jokingly checked each others' pulses as tense minutes ticked by and Iran squandered a string of scoring chances.
"I always try to catch the matches near the Mater, just in case my ticker finally gives out on me!" said Niall Conroy after Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given, on his hands and knees, batted one of Iran's shots wide early in the second half.
The result capped an unlikely qualification for Ireland. Ireland finished second in its European qualifying group behind Portugal, eliminating the powerhouse Dutch team in the process.
Given had been the Irish hero in the first leg, managing two stunning saves in last weekend's 2-0 victory. On Thursday, Iran's second-half injury-time goal had Dubliners pulling out their collective hair. But they quickly forgave Given as the final whistle blew.
"The Iranians didn't deserve that goal -- their finishing was diabolical," said Frank Currie, a hospital orderly who opted to work a night shift so he could watch the game's start at 2 p.m.
"Shay's the man who really did the job for Ireland, home and away," said Niamh O'Halloran, a 25-year-old nurse and soccer fan. "It's a bit of a shame he couldn't stop that goal in the last few seconds - but we're not complaining, really!"
Irish confidence in the team's ability to qualify for next summer's World Cup in South Korea and Japan has been on public display for months, with billboards featuring team captain Roy Keane in samurai gear.
But the injured Keane -- Manchester United's star midfielder -- didn't make the trip to Tehran, inspiring fears of a possible letdown after Ireland's home win.
"Without Keane, they still killed Iran," said commentator Eamon Dunphy, a former Irish soccer international. "That was really a magnificent performance, and we proved we belong in the World Cup."
Ireland had lost its two previous playoffs, for the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship. That stirred superstitious anxieties in some fans, and a resurgence of Roman Catholic prayer in others in the final minute of play.
"Thank God! Mary and Joseph too!" exulted Niall Conroy, 55, who was thumbing his Rosary beads for most of the second half. "I'm not sure how many Hail Marys I got through, but they did the trick."
Iranians cheer team, Ireland despite loss
TEHRAN, Iran -- Thousands of Iranian soccer fans whistled the Irish team in good cheer Thursday after Iran beat Ireland 1-0, but lost its chance of a place in next year's World Cup finals on 2-1 aggregate.
Irish players returned the grace of the Iranian spectators, waving to them as they walked off the field at the Azadi Stadium.
However, at least three Iranian players could not contain their disappointment. They sank to the turf, holding their heads in their hands and weeping openly.
Some Iranian spectators also expressed their frustration, shouting taunts at the national team's coach, Miroslav Blazevic of Croatia, and throwing empty bottles and shoes on to the pitch.
In the streets of Tehran, there were isolated clashes after the game but the atmosphere was mostly relaxed. While some fans did smash the windows of the buses taking them away from the stadium, others contented themselves with rehashing the match on street corners, lobbing firecrackers from cars and blowing fanfares on plastic trumpets.
Thousands of police guarded shops, banks and petrol stations from potential rioters. Police had lines of tow-trucks in waiting to close off streets, if necessary. Three of Iran's four World Cup qualifying matches in the past six weeks have been followed by wild celebrations or even riots in Tehran. The outbursts have carried political undertones as when women have taken off their headscarves and danced in the street -- violations of the strict Islamic social code.
Some 2,000 people gathered in north Tehran's Madar Square on Thursday night. The crowd seemed intent on having fun rather than expressing anger over Iran's exclusion from the World Cup.
However, plainclothed members of the Basij vigilante group used sticks to disperse a group of young people who were dancing and throwing firecrackers.
In the western district of Sadeqieh, vigilantes clashed with fans who made a bonfire in the street and shouted anti-government slogans. Police intervened and ended the fighting.
During the match, Tehran was like a ghost town. Streets were deserted as nearly all the city's 10 million people sat in front of televisions sets.
Most of the 1,000 Irish fans arrived at the stadium in buses under police escort. They were assigned to seats in one section of the stadium. Police blocked Iranians from approaching the Irish fans.
Among the Irish supporters were two dozen women who wore coats and headscarves to conform to Iran's dress code.