Coach : Afshin Ghotbi
Iran became the latest team to book their place in the AFC Asian Cup finals in Doha next January after a 3-1 away win over Singapore at the National Stadium in their penultimate Group E qualifier.
Hadi Aghily converted a penalty before further strikes from Mehrzad Madanchi and substitute Gholamreza Rezaei secured the three points while Noh Alam Shah grabbed the only goal for the hosts.
The result means Iran have the group wrapped as they sit top of the standings with 10 points, for ahead of Thailand and Singapore.
The Iranians had gone into the match as hot favourites and swept into a 2-0 lead in the first quarter of an hour.
The first goal was somewhat harsh on the home side after referee Sun Baojie pointed to the spot when Singapore defender Precious Emeujeraye looked to have won the ball cleanly. Hadi Aghily made no mistake from 12 yards and barely two minutes later it was 2-0 after sloppy play at the back from the Lions.
Madanchi pounced on a misplaced pass from Daniel Bennett and went through one-on-one and smashed home beyond the despairing dive of Singapore keeper Hassan Sunny.
To their credit, Singapore refused to throw in the towel and just after the half hour, they were thrown a lifeline when skipper Noh Alam Shah headed in Fahrudin Mustafic's deep cross after the initial corner was partially cleared.
It should have been 2-2 just after the break when substitute Khairul Amri powered his header from point-blank range onto the cross bar with the Iranian keeper Mehdi Rahmati well beaten.
Singapore would then pay for pushing numbers forward in search of the equaliser as Iran sealed the match with a superb third on 63 minutes. Iran counter-attacked following a Singapore corner and substitute Gholamreza Rezaei found himself in space and lobbed Lions keeper Hassan with a brilliant chip.
The home side poured forward in the final 30 minutes but found no way past a well-drilled Iran defence and now need a win against Jordan in their final match in Amman in March if they are to reach their first AFC Asian Cup finals since 1984.
Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi was pleased to see his side achieve his primary target of winning their qualifying group following their 3-1 win at Singapore and has now set his sights on claiming the 2011 AFC Asian Cup crown.
Hadi Aghily fired home from the spot before further strikes from Mehrzad Madanchi and substitute Gholamreza Rezaei secured the three points while Noh Alam Shah grabbed the only goal for the hosts.
The victory means Iran claim top spot in Group E as they have 10 points, four ahead of Thailand and Singapore with one game remaining.
"We had set the target to win the Asian Cup and we have achieved our first target of reaching it first,” said Ghotbi (pictured).
"The fans saw a fantastic match today with both teams displaying plenty of fighting spirit. I'm very proud of my team and we played in difficult circumstances.
"We started the game very well and executed our tactical plan perfectly.”
Singapore had threatened to stage something of an upset as Noh’s strike had made it 2-1 and they could consider themselves unlucky not to have equalised when substitute Khairul Amri powered his header from point-blank range onto the crossbar with the Iranian keeper Mehdi Rahmati well beaten.
"I have a lot of respect for the Singapore coach and players and they showed how far football has progressed in Asia,” added Ghotbi.
“They showed tremendous fighting spirit from the first minute to the last.
"In the end, we were the better team on the day and we showed that."
Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic felt that the initial decisions against the team left them with the proverbial mountain to climb from the start.
"The penalty was a disaster and it seemed like a handicap when those decisions went against us from the start,” he said.
"However, we did not play well and when we made the mistakes like we did, quality sides like Iran will punish us.”
Singapore travel to Jordan where a win could be enough to book their place at the AFC Asian Cup should Thailand fail to beat Iran in the other final group game in March.
“Nothing has changed in terms of our qualification,” added Avramovic.
“I had said previously that we would probably need three points from our last two games to take us to the Asian Cup. It looks like we have to get these three points in Jordan.”