Iran proved that their preparations for next month's FIFA World Cup are well on track after earning a highly creditable 2-2 draw against a strong Croatia side on Sunday. Ali Karimi and Arash Borhani were on target for Team Melli.
OSIJEK, CROATIA - Iran proved that their preparations for next month's FIFA World Cup are well on track after earning a highly creditable 2-2 draw against a strong Croatia side on Sunday.
The Iranians, playing the first of their two scheduled friendly games prior to a Group D clash with Mexico on June 11, shocked the European outfit by twice taking the lead at Osijek's rain swept Maksimir Stadium only to be denied a morale-boosting win thanks to a last gasp Marko Babic penalty.
With injury victim Mehdi Mahdavikia forced to watch from the sidelines, Iran weathered an early onslaught to take the lead after 21 minutes. Vahid Hashemian broke into the Croatian box to set-up Mohammad Nosrati. The full-back's misdirected shot somehow found its way to Ali Karimi who duly registered his 33rd goal in 90 international appearances.
Croatia levelled matters 10 minutes later when talented Glasgow Rangers striker Dado Prso capitalised on some confusion in the visitors' penalty area to pounce and fire home past a helpless Ebrahim Mirzapour.
Team Melli stalwart Ali Daei came close with a long-distance effort on the stroke of half-time before the reigning West Asian Football Federation champions came within inches of regaining the lead midway through the second period as Javad Nekounam's clever attempt landed narrowly wide of Stipe Pletikosa's goal.
Iran eventually went ahead with eight minutes remaining. Mario Tokic's dreadful ball out of defence was intercepted by Pas frontman Arash Borhani whose delightful lob from 18 yards left Pletikosa stranded.
Borhani then had a seemingly legitimate goal ruled out for offside, a decision that proved to be a costly one for the Iranians as, with the game deep into stoppage time, Mirzapour fumbled a long ball and then pulled back Ivica Olic to concede a needless penalty, Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Babic converting the spot-kick with aplomb.
Despite the late drama, Iran head coach Branko Ivankovic was keen to focus on the positive aspects of his team's performance against his native Croatia.
"We were close to winning even though there are still some things we need to work on," admitted the 52-year-old.
"I am satisfied with the way my players performed in this tough game against a tough rival," he added.
Iran now head home to play Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday prior to World Cup matches against Mexico in Nuremberg on June 11, Portugal six days later and Angola in Leipzig on June 21.