Tehran: Captain Javad Nekonam scored a hat-trick as three-time champions Iran opened their AFC Asian Cup 2015 qualifying campaign in style with a 5-0 win over 10-man Lebanon in Tehran on Wednesday.
Standard Liege’s Reza Ghoochannejhad also netted twice at Azadi Stadium to open his international account as Iran gained revenge over Lebanon having lost last year’s FIFA World Cup qualifier 1-0 in Beirut.
With two teams from each group securing automatic qualification for the 2015 finals in Australia, Kuwait - who entertain Iran at the end of March- join Iran at the top of Group B after beating Thailand 3-1 in Bangkok.
“I appreciate the effort from my players; they kept fighting and never gave up. We were able to highlight the gap between Iranian and Lebanese football,” said Iran coach Carlos Queiroz.
“After we lost at home to Uzbekistan we needed to do something to relieve the pressure and we were able to beat Lebanon 5-0 which will alleviate the negative atmosphere.
“I opted to substitute Ashkan Dejagah and Reza Ghoochannejhad for two less experienced players as we had already achieved the result and I wanted to give the opportunity to some of the young players.”
Iran had to wait until midway through the first half to open the scoring as Mojtaba Jabari fed Ghoochannejhad for the Belgium-based striker to fire past Lebanon goalkeeper Abbas Hassan for his first international goal.
Anderanik Teymourian and Fulham midfielder Ashkan Dejagah both went close for Iran as the half progressed, with Hassan Maatouk creating Lebanon’s first real opportunity after 31 minutes.
But in first half stoppage time Iran finally doubled their lead as Nekonam converted from the penalty spot.
And Iran’s third arrived just after the hour mark as Nekonam again netted from 12 yards after Nour Mansour had been sent-off after picking up a second yellow card for a foul on the lively Dejagah inside the penalty area.
Ghoochannejhad’s second international goal extended the lead soon after as the striker converted from close range before Nekonam’s deflected strike with 10 minutes remaining sealed the win and his hat-trick.
“We didn’t travel here to win, a single point from the tie would have been enough, but the way the game played out caught me off guard,” said Lebanon coach Theo Bucker.
“We lost concentration after both penalties and we were unable to get it back.”