Coach: Vadim ABRAMOV (UZB)
Tashkent: Substitute Mohammad Reza Khalatbari scored a dramatic winner with virtually the last kick of the match as Iran snatched a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in Sunday’s Group A opener in the final round of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
An inspirational performance from Iran goalkeeper Mahdi Rahmati had kept the home side at bay at Jar Stadium before Uzbekistan thought they had finally broken the deadlock with just over a quarter of an hour remaining only for defender Jalal Hosseini to produce a last-ditch goalline clearance to deny captain Odil Akhmedov.
And with just over 10 seconds remaining of added time, Khalatbari rounded off a swift Iran counterattack to snatch all three points despite the visitors being forced onto the back foot for the majority of an entertaining 90 minutes.
“I am very happy tonight. We have won a very important match. We won the match because we have a great coach and players and we played well,” said Iran’s former Real Madrid and Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz, who now takes his side back to Tehran for the June 12 visit of Qatar.
“Uzbekistan had several chances. After this we changed our style and we battled more against them and reached our target. I knew Uzbekistan would go forward in the last minutes, that’s why we changed our tactics and tried to score from counterattacks. We did it and our changes brought us three points.
“But it is just beginning and we have more matches. I think all matches in the group will be very tough.”
Following an open but uneventful start to the contest, Iran goalkeeper Rahmati was twice called into action in quick succession midway through the first half to deny Viktor Karpenko and Alexander Geynrikh.
Uzbekistan continued to dominate as the half progressed and the home side had the ball in the back of the net four minutes before half-time, but Geynrikh had strayed narrowly offside as the striker followed up after Rahmati had failed to hold a shot from Jasur Hasanov.
The home side remained on the front foot at the start of the second half, with visiting coach Quieroz forced to replace defender Ehsan Safi with striker Khalatbari just after the hour mark in an attempt to turn the game in Iran’s favour.
It was Uzbekistan, though, who thought they had finally broken the deadlock with 16 minutes remaining as captain Akhmedov first hit the post from Geynrikh’s inviting free-kick before seeing his follow-up cleared off the goalline by Hosseini.
Despite Uzbekistan continuing to dominate, Quieroz then introduced Karim Ansarifard for Mojtaba Jabari with 15 minutes remaining.
And with just seconds remaining in stoppage time, Anderanik Teymourian led an Iran counterattack and found Ansarifard in space on the right and the substitute played a slide rule pass across the Uzbekistan penalty area and fellow second half replacement Khalatbari beat goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov with a superb first-time finish.
“We scored a goal in the second half, but the referees didn’t see it. Iran had two chances and won it,” said Uzbekistan coach Vadim Abramov, who now must pick his charges up for Friday’s trip to Lebanon.
“I don’t know what did happen with us in the last minutes, sometimes we concede goals at the end of the match.
“We lost the game, but it is not tragedy. We have seven matches in the group and the hope will not die until the last moment.
“I changed the position of Akhmedov in the second half because we wanted to win, but you can’t always win. It is football.
“We are looking forward to the next games. I hope we will change our situation as our aim is to go to World Cup.”