Iran victory sets up thrilling World Cup finale
TEHRAN, Oct 12 (AFP)
Iran defeated bitter rivals Iraq 2-1 here on Friday to take another huge step towards qualifying for next year's World Cup finals.
However, the match was overshadowed when fans' celebrations in the streets after the match turned sour as running battles were fought with the police, teargas was fired and dozens of fans were arrested, an AFP correspondent said.
Riot police had earlier clubbed dozens of supporters of all ages after more than 20,000 people gathered in one of Tehran's main squares - Nur Square - to celebrate the team's victory.
The win put Iran back on top of Asian Group A with 15 points, one point ahead of second-placed Saudi Arabia who have also played seven games.
The result now means the sole qualifying spot will be decided on the final day of the competition next Friday when Iran travel to Bahrain while the Saudis are at home to Thailand.
Only the group winners are guaranteed a place in Japan and South Korea while the runners-up must face a play-off with the side finishing second in Group B.
The winners of that match then have to take on the Republic of Ireland, runners-up in European Group Two, if they are to make it to the finals.
It took Iran 27 minutes to take the lead on Friday when Mehdi Mahdavikia, who plays for Bundesliga side SV Hamburg, scored after some good build up by Karim Bagheri and Ali Karimi.
As the 100,000 crowd inside the Azadi Stadium looked for more goals, Iraq, playing in the Iranian capital for the first time in 25 years, refused to buckle under the pressure and early in the second half they equalised.
Qahtan Drain was on hand to score after the home side failed to clear and briefly the visitors dreamed of improving on their miserable record of only having won three of 14 meetings with their neighbours.
But Iran, bidding to reach the finals for the third time, poured forward looking for the vital strike.
Reza Rezaei, Karimi and Ali Daei all went close before they eventually grabbed the winner.
It came 19 minutes from the end when Mahdavikia broke down the right. He cut inside and as Iraq keeper Saeed Jameel tried to close him down, Mahdavikia slotted the ball to Karimi who scored from close range.