Tag: Son Heung-Min

A difficult game’ vs. Iran with top seed at stake in World Cup qualifying group, Bento predicts

provided by the KFA. (Yonhap)

With one box checked, Paulo Bento has quickly shifted his focus to the next goal to achieve.

Under his tutelage, South Korea have already booked a ticket to Qatar for this year’s FIFA World Cup with two qualifying matches left. Few would have batted an eye if Bento had chosen to take his foot off the pedal for the rest of the current qualifying campaign.

Instead, Bento on Monday called up most of his usual suspects in a bid to win his team’s final two qualifying matches this month. South Korea will host Iran in Seoul on March 24 and wrap up the final Asian qualifying round by visiting Dubai to play the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on March 29.

With 20 points after eight matches, South Korea are in second place in Group A of the ongoing round, two points back of Iran. The top two teams from each of the two groups in this round will earn automatic berths. Iran and South Korea are already in, while Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Australia are still duking it out for the two tickets in Group B.

Instead of playing it safe this month, Bento has taken dead aim at Iran for the top seed in Group A. Winning the group and rising in the FIFA rankings should also help South Korea’s position in the World Cup draw, allowing them to avoid some tough countries, though Bento said he wasn’t yet thinking ahead to the draw.

“We have two games. We should think how we’re going to face the next opponents and how we can do our job and try to finalize this qualifier in the best possible way,” Bento said at his online press conference Monday. “And that is to get the six points and finish in the first place. After that, we will see what’s coming and see where we’re going to be in the draw. I think we have a good challenge before that.”

Facing Iran has been a challenge for South Korea for years. South Korea’s last victory against the Middle Eastern foe came in January 2011. In their most recent meeting, held in Tehran in October, the teams ended in a 1-1 draw, with South Korea blowing a 1-0 lead in the second half.

South Korea has managed just nine wins against 10 draws and 13 draws all-time versus Iran.

“In the physical aspect as well as in the tactical one, Iran has players that can break the balance in our team, players that have experience,” Bento said. “I have no doubt about their quality. We will try to reach the victory in order to reach the first position in the group. I am sure that it will be a difficult game but at the same time, I am convinced that we can do that and we’re going to try to do that without any doubt.”

To that end, Bento went back to the likes of Son Heung-min, who leads Tottenham Hotspur in goals this season, and Hwang Ui-jo, FC Girondins Bordeaux forward and one of Bento’s most trusted offensive options.

But the coach also made a couple of surprise choices on defense, with Suwon FC defender Park Min-gyu and Seoul E-Land back Lee Jae-ik.

This is Park’s first senior national team callup. Lee had been brought in during the previous World Cup qualifying round in October 2019 but didn’t play in any matches then.

With the starting center back Kim Young-gwon playing with a yellow card — one away from automatic suspension — and another veteran Kwon Kyung-won apparently not 100 percent, Bento said he wanted extra options on his backline. He reserved particularly high praise for the 26-year-old Park, who had appeared in 12 matches for the under-20 national team.

“Park is a good player in the technical aspect. We know he has good defensive principles,” Bento said. “It’s a good opportunity to see him in our context.”

Top of the table clash ends in a draw- Iran 1 – 1 Korea Rep

Team Melli drew 1-1 with Korea Rep in a top-of-the-table clash in Azadi. The hosts scored first in 48th minutes by Son Heung-Min while Iran’s equalizer came through Alireza Jahanbakhsh assisted by Sardar Azmoun.

Both teams adopted a cautious approach in the first half, although the Koreans had the better ball possession at the beginning. Team Melli was content in defending or sending long direct balls to the forwards in the hope that either Azmoun or Taremi beat the solid Korean defense.

The rhythm of the game remained slow and lethargic with far too many easy missed passes by the two teams and both having problems in the final delivery of the ball. Despite the better ball possession, the Koreans have failed to register any shot on goal. As the game was in the last 5 minutes of the first half, it suddenly burst into action.

Sardar Azmoun tested the Korean keeper Kim Seung-Gyu from just inside the box with a powerful shot. The keeper could not control the ball and had to deflect with the ball somehow found Taremi. The FC Porto forward acrobatically hit a scissor kick that badly tested the keeper again, but Kim’s reflex and a fingertip save kept the ball from entering the net.

A third assault followed but to no avail.

Early in the second half, Son Heung-Min did what he does best. With one shift of the body, he easily left Sadegh Moharrami for dead and was one on one with Beiranvand. The Tottenham winger made no mistake finding the net. Iran 0 -1 Korea.

It was then that Team Melli came alive starting with a rather bold substitution by Skocic. He introduced Omid Nourafkan instead of ineffective Gholizadeh.  Nourafkan, who is originally a midfielder would be playing as the left-back and winger. However, it was the same old same old with this player. It only took him 6 minutes to get a yellow card for another silly foul. He is now suspended after two consecutive cards in two games.

The change in game plan was working well for Team Melli but there was always the threat of a quick counterattack. Saeid Ezatollahi hit a delightful shot against the woodwork as Iran was denied an equalizer. The attacks continued while Team Melli’s defenders dealt very well with the Korean counters. The Koreans were unable to penetrate the walls and hardly gave Beiranvand any trouble.

Team Melli equalized on minute 76 when Sardar Azmoun did a brilliant job of following what looked like a wasted ball on the left of Korean keeper Kim who followed the ball initially but retreated when he realized that Sardar was faster and closer to the ball.  Azmoun controlled the difficult ball just before it crossed the line and crossed towards the on-rushing Jahanbakhsh. The team Melli captain scored from a header again to maintain parity with the Koreans. With few minutes left on the match, Taremi hit a swerving shot that once again bounced from the post, the second time in the match that Iran hits the woodwork

In the last minute of injury time, there was a scare for Team Melli but Beiranvand heroically saved his goal and parried a ground shot into a corner kick.

Pre-match Preview Iran vs. Korea Rep. Lessons to be learned.

With Team Melli sitting comfortably at the top, this particular match remains the most crucial of all the matches. A win by Iran will lead to practically unassailable command for Team Melli and 70% of the mission accomplished towards the qualification for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Of course, the results of other matches are also significant, but not as important as the three points of this one.

Korea Rep will always be a tough and uncompromising opponent for Team Melli never mind the Table or the Ranking. The Koreans are 14 places behind Iran in the FIFA Ranking of October 2021 and 59 points behind. No one should be fooled by such numbers though because the Koreans will surely give it all for this particular win.




Total Points
Previous Points


IR Iran
1522.04 16.04
1529.45 -8.99
1477.21 16.78
Korea Republic
Korea Republic
1474.96 4.45

During the Queiroz era, this match would have been the right candidate for combustions. There was no love lost between Queiroz and the Korean coach. Eventually, Queiroz was instrumental in his counterpart losing his job following defeat to Team Melli. That is all settled now as no such hostility exists between Bento and Skocic.

Politics of the game aside, when it comes to the power, tactics, and influential players, the teams are neck and neck. There is, however, a marked decline of standard and form by the Koreans, versus the ascendency and improvement of Team Melli in the last few years, but particularly under Dragan Skocic.  Despite having arguably the best Asian player in its rank, in the shape of Son Heung-min , the Tottenham winger has been less than effective in a team of many new faces. The Iraqi’s managed to close all doors away to the Koreans,  with the match ending goalless. Lebanon was next where the Koreans won by the tightest of margins. Then came the third match against Syria. The match was drawn 1-1 until a momentary lapse of concentration in the 89th minute of the match by the excellent Syrian defense allowed Son Heung-min to score the easiest of goals and his first for his country since 2019. Son Heung-min was unmarked and the goal came from a set piece.

Sadegh Moharrami during a practice session before the Korea Rep match

The winning goal scored by the Koreans is a lesson to be learned by Team Melli. number one is that players should never relax against them and number two,  Son Heung-min can not be left unmarked in or around the box. That goal was similar in circumstances to the one that was conceded by Team Melli against Iraq in Amman in Round 2 of the same qualifiers, a goal that ended in defeat for Team Melli.

Singling Son Heung-min as their main threat is also misleading as there are many such good players in the squad, however, this team has been surprisingly profligate, wasteful, and squandering chances by the dozen in the last three matches. The other area where the team has seen a decline is the accuracy of the passes and the end result. While passing the ball around might appear neat, the final passes were mostly disappointing. In fact, the Koreans despite their control and passing stats in all three matches, have created only a handful of real scoring chances in relation to their superiority.


The official World Rankings of the international Men’s team





Recent Ranking Average Ranking Highest Ranking Lowest Ranking

Team Melli’s perfect record in round three is also somehow misleading. Out of the three matches, only against Iraq that the team shined quite well and the result reflected the good performance. The last one played against UAE was perhaps the most worrying, but we can excuse the team performance as they were playing in a humid and warm climate that normally seeps the energy of players not accustomed to such conditions. As such it results in exhaustion, dehydration, adverse physical conditions, and lack of concentration. A very good example of that was the penalty kick carried out by Sardar Azmoun right at the end of regulation time of the match. His body language did not augur well for a player who is about to take a penalty. He was visibly tired and his feeble kick was easily saved by Khausaif, the UAE keeper.  The miss did not change the outcome, but it could have been costly in other circumstances. Another lesson to be learned by the coaching staff.

We cannot conclude any Team Melli match preview without mentioning the proverbial discipline. While Korea was lucky to get the winning goal against Syria, Iran were lucky not to lose their key central defender with around another half an hour to play. Such fouls like the one committed by Shojaa Khalilzadeh against Ali Mabkhout, was amateurish by a player who was until that time, one of the best players in the match. What instigated this foul was more emotional than tactical. Granted that Mabkhout beat him and was heading towards the goal at the edge of the penalty box, a professional and composed defender would have left his goalkeeper deal with the forward, after all, Beiranvand is one of the best in Asia especially since Mabkhoiut was not in full control of the ball anyway, and he runs behind to cover Beirnavand. Khalilzadeh, took the weaker option by pully Mabkhout!

It was all immaterial at the end because there was a VAR decision that an offside occurred earlier on and Shojaa’s red card was rescinded. A lesson learned? perhaps.

Mental and Emotional control, composure, and cool balanced heads are in short supply at team Melli level. There is always a possibility of combustion and fans have grown accustomed to seeing silly fouls and acts from the players. We just hope that tomorrow in Azadi against Korea is not one of those black days.




The Koreans intent to change history in Tehran.

Tehran: Korea Republic have never won in Iran, but Paulo Bento’s side will see Tuesday’s top-of-the-table AFC Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar clash as the perfect time to put that record right.
Seven times the Korea Republic men’s national team have ventured to Tehran, and a pair of draws – in 1977 and 2009 – are the best it has ever got for a team that has historically been one of Asia’s giants.

The last three visits to the famed Azadi Stadium have all yielded 1-0 defeats, and it has been six matches across 10 years since the Koreans have gotten the better of Team Melli at any venue.

With seven of a possible nine points accrued from three successive home games, and with attacking weapons like Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan in tow, Bento and co will be hoping the 2021 visit to the Iranian capital is the one which ends a decades-long drought, but they will arrive to find a star-studded and in-form opponent.
Boasting firepower of their own in the devastating strike duo of Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi – and buoyed by a perfect record of 10 wins from as many matches since Dragan Skočić took the head coach role at the outset of 2021 – Iran will hold no fear, even if the Azadi Stadium will remain empty.
Three wins from three and no goals conceded in the Final Round underlines Team Melli’s strength at the back as well as upfront and extends a remarkable run which has seen the team concede only seven goals in their last 25 Asian Qualifiers matches.
Thursday’s win over the United Arab Emirates in Dubai was emblematic of the dual strengths of Skočić’s side.

It was the quality and understanding of Taremi and Azmoun which created Iran’s goal, while the Emiratis, themselves featuring the prolific Ali Mabkhout, didn’t manage a single shot on target over the 90 minutes.
That victory puts Team Melli, even at this early stage, within sight of a third successive FIFA World Cup appearance.
With nine points, the Iranians are two ahead of Korea Republic and seven clear of a chasing pack featuring UAE, Lebanon, and Syria, meaning a draw or defeat on Tuesday would not derail their campaign, but a victory would represent a major accomplishment on an increasingly smooth Road to Qatar.

Iran v Korea Republic
Venue: Azadi Stadium, Tehran
Kick-off: 17:00 hours (UTC+3:30)

Tough draw for Iran in AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020

Bangkok: Iran’s Omid Team has been drawn in what must be the toughest group of the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020.
Joining Iran are the defending champions Uzbekistan, Korea Republic and China in Group C. The Thailand 2020 Finals draw was held in Bangkok on Thursday. Iran had no representation in the draw ceremony.
Uzbekistan will open their defence of the AFC U23 Championship title in Group C with a match against Iran’s Omid Team. It promises to be an exciting group as all three of Uzbekistan’s challengers will be aiming to win the title for the first time.

The fourth edition of the Championship will be played across three cities – Bangkok, Buriram and Songkhla – with the tournament kicking off on January 8, and the final to be played on January 26. Besides Continental glory, 15 of the 16 teams will also be competing for places in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where the top three sides will join hosts Japan as Asia’s representatives next July.

Hosts Thailand was drawn in Group A and they will have 2013 champions Iraq, Australia and debutants Bahrain to contend with.
Qatar, third in 2018, 2016 champions Japan, Saudi Arabia – runners-up in 2013, and Syria are in an exciting looking Group B.

Vietnam, runners-up in 2018, have DPR Korea, Jordan – third in 2013 – and United Arab Emirates for the company in Group D.
Should Japan make the last four stage, the other three semi-finalists will be assured of their places in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Under newbie coach Farhad Majidi, Iran’s U23 had a disappointing showing in the preparation matches two of which were against the same Uzbekistan team which they will meet on 9th January 2020. With the powerful South Koreans, who are a title contenders in their own right, waiting next for Iran, it is going a steep mountain to climb for Iran. Realistically, Iran chances look dim for qualification but would be more than happy to be in the top two teams. China, the other team of the group have been performing well qualifying to the finals with ease after beating Laos 5-0 and Philipines 8-0 while drawing with host Malaysia 2-2. The Chinese have two friendly matches arranged in South America in Late November with Colombia in Bucaramanga and then against Peru in Lima.

The star-studded Korean team who are the Gold Medal holders of the Asian Games 2018 may include Tottenham Hotspurs star Son Heung-min who is 27 now. However upfront they have Hamburger SV forward Hwang Hee-chan and Italian Club Verona Lee Seung-woo in the squad. It is not clear if these players will be released for this championship.



Group C match fixtures

9 January 2020 Tinsulanon Stadium, Songkhla   Uzbekistan Iran
9 January 2020 Tinsulanon Stadium, Songkhla South Korea China PR
12 January 2020 Tinsulanon Stadium, Songkhla Iran South Korea
12 January 2020 Tinsulanon Stadium, Songkhla China PR Uzbekistan
15 January 2020 Thammasat Stadium, Pathum Thani Uzbekistan South Korea
15 January 2020 Tinsulanon Stadium, Songkhla China PR Iran

The Koreans are desperate for a win against Team Melli

Paulo Bento, The Portuguese coach of South Korea who led his team to a 1-0 win against Australia, is determined to lead the team to victory against Iran too.

South Korea, ranked 37th in the FIFA rankings, has been out-ranked 9th, 8th and 13th spots lower against the 21st ranked Iran, who are also the top ranking team in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

In the last five matches, Korea never won against the Iranians managing only one draw and four losses.

Bento in his pre-match press conference at the PFC NFC (Training Center for Football) on October 10, said

“We will continue to maintain the framework and style of our team even if we play an experimental team versus Iran,” he said. “We are now building a team to make the right choices in the World Cup qualifiers.”

Bento said, “We will consider the technical and mental aspects of the players,” “We will stick with our style of play and bring in the players we need.”
Bento is looking forward to the success of his aces Son hung min and Hwang Joon-jo.

How much is too much for Son Heung-min?

Son Heung-min has played a lot of soccer over the last 12 months, with minutes on the field seemingly outranked only by air miles.

It has some South Koreans wondering how much is too much.

The recently completed season with Tottenham Hotspur was intense enough, with almost 50 appearances as the club placed fourth place in the Premier League and progressed to the Champions League final before losing 1-0 against Liverpool in Madrid.

Through it all, he maintained a taxing schedule with South Korea’s national team that included trips to the World Cup in Russia, the Asian Games in Indonesia and the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates. And international friendlies on top, too.

Despite all that, the 26-year-old Son was called once again by South Korea coach Paulo Bento to fly from Europe to play 90 minutes in a low-key friendly against Australia last Friday and prepare for another exhibition against Iran in Seoul on Tuesday. There have been calls for the player to be given a break but that is unlikely to happen.

Wilmots advocating an offensive strategy

Iran national football team head coach Marc Wilmots said Monday his side will play attacking football with high-pressing tactics to beat South Korea in their upcoming friendly match.

Iran and South Korea will go head-to-head at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul on Tuesday. Wilmots, who took over Iran’s helm last month, said Team Melli will not sit back against the Taeguk Warriors, who have yet to suffer a defeat at home under their head coach Paulo Bento.

“The best defense is a good offense,” Wilmots said at a pre-match press conference. “We will try to create many chances with a high-intensity pressing game.”

Iran national football team head coach Marc Wilmots speaks at a press conference at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul on June 10, 2019, one day ahead of his team's friendly football match against South Korea. (Yonhap)

“Since 2014, Son has grown a lot with experience from big tournaments like the UEFA Champions League,” he said of the Tottenham Hotspur star. “Son is showing his best performance these days using his technique and experience.”

Iran, ranked 21st in the latest FIFA rankings, have been one of the top nemeses to South Korea, currently No. 37 in the world. Iran have not suffered a defeat against South Korea since 2011. They collected four consecutive 1-0 wins before taking a scoreless draw in a World Cup qualifying match in August 2017.

Wilmots, 50, said he wants to maintain Iran’s undefeated streak against South Korea.

“Iran and South Korea are rivals that motivate each other,” he said. “But what I hate the most is losing. Many fans will root for South Korea tomorrow, but we’ll try our best.”

Iran, the strongest contender for the title.

As the AFC Asian Cup is drawing closer, the pressure on Carlos Queiroz mounts to prove his worth with Team Melli by winning the 17th edition of the continents top prize.

The Portuguese head coach, whose resume included world class teams like Real Madrid, Manchester United, Portugal and South African national teams, has spent enough time in Iran and Asia to mount a serious challenge for the continent most coveted trophy which eluded Iran for 43 years.

For over 5 years, Team Melli has been ranked at the top of FIFA Ranking, rudely interrupted by Japan in one or two occasion. Under Queiroz’s leadership, Iran made it to two World Cups with ease it should be said, against tough opponents such as South Korea and Uzbekistan.

Iran stars such as Azmoun, Jahanbakhsh and Ansarifard have not performed anywhere near some of the other Asian footballers in Europe and none of them seem to be able to hold a place in their teams. South Korea’s Son Heung-min ,  is indispensable  member of the English Premiere league title contenders , Tottenham ,  Ki Sung-yueng is an important player for Newcastle, Australia’s brilliant goalkeeper  Mathew Ryan , has been Brighton’s saviour, Tom Rogic of Celtic  plays a major role for the Scottish champions, Japan’s Maya Yoshida (Southampton) ,  Shinji Kagawa (B. Dortmund),and Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City) all passed the grade for their  European Teams. It is interesting to note however, that Japan’s coach Hajime Moriyasu in true Japanese tradition opted for a team filled with young Europe-based talents, leaving stars like the latter two players off the squad. In brief, individually, the other Asian footballer have fared much better in Europe than Team Melli players.


Success at National team level in a competition such as the AFC Asian Cup cannot be judged on the individual star of a team. In the true meaning of the word, it is the team, in a collective sense that makes a difference at the end. The combination of Queiroz with his experience, knowledge and tactical acuteness with this group of talented and capable Iranian footballers, whom he has built and molded to his liking, is an excellent recipe for success. This is perhaps the best Iranian team since 1976 and many pundits know it and swear by it.

It is football, after all. One or two teams can spring a surprise. Australia, the defending champion minus a few of their stars from 2015 , Japan’s young yet tactically sound team, South Korea with a tradition ,  tactical discipline and winning mentality are as good as any to win the title.  There are also some outsiders, including Qatar, Iraq, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia who might have a say in the tournament too.

Considering all factors, Iran and Queiroz still hold the upper hand and they are the team to beat. Barring some of the reckless finishing that have marred their recent performances, the trio up front in Team Melli can beat the best of their opponents. A solid defense is vital for any team with aspiration of winning championships and Team Melli has it all. In fact, Queiroz has a problem of riches in defense with all the defenders in the squad on similar forms and standards.

Ezatollahi’s absence in the defensive midfield role is a real, perhaps the only blow to Queiroz, but there is enough quality in the team to ensure his absence is not felt.

Success and chances of lifting the trophy will be greatly enhanced when personal, and tactical discipline (Queiroz is most defiantly should lead by example from the touchline) is at its highest. Not allowing the outcome of the match to be dependent on vacillating referees’ such as Ben Williams calls is a key factor.

On a positive note, Team Melli will have the greatest support outside of Iran in the UAE. The great Iranian community will be ever present to cheer the boys. This support cannot be underestimated.

Now all that remains is for the likes of Azmoun, Taremi, Ansarifarfd and Jahanbakhsh to convert their chances on the pitch and leave lady luck in the dressing room.

AFC Annual Awards in need of reforms.

Once again the pathetic AFC Annual Awards are upon us, and once again the much criticized set of awards is being flaunted as the première platform of Asian Football top awards. Accusations that the awards are highly politicized, has very little to do with reality and lack of transparency has marred this annual process. All hopes of improvement and reform has been meat by deaf ear of the hierarchy of AFC with the announcement of this year’s list.

Unfortunately, it is the only award that the rest of the world looks at , as because no other forum or reputable organization nor any strong media in Asia bothers about creating a highly respectable alternative. So, for the those World Media unversed and the less informed in Asian football  , these awards can be mistakenly be taken as the representative of the best of Asian Football excellence while the reality is so far from it.

Year after years and without any culpability, the AFC announces a short list of names for the awards which has little relevance to reality or actual standards. The worst of the awards is the “AFC Player of the year”  which has been the main target of critics and frankly has been scandalous on occasions. All sort of criticism and accusations have been targeted by many who were affected by these nominations.  Political clout, influences and lobbying has been said to play the major part of nomination and selection of supposedly the best Asian footballer. No all criticism were impartial though as the West Asian Arab states have been always vocal when their nominees were absent from the list!

In reality, the flaw in the nomination process seems to be apparent when previous candidates and winners are scrutinized.  A quick look at the historic data and past winners will confirm to any knowledgeable person that the AFC list is out of touch with the real world. AFC Player of the year has even been selected on nepotism during Bin Hamam’s days and hardly improved ever since.

Whether the new President is willing to tackle this issue, or even if he has any interest in reforming this particular process or maybe very well be covenant with the highly unpopular process , is yet to be seen. However, the secretive on goings behind the scene or under the table in the nomination and selection procedures, is quite a thorn in AFC’s credbility.

At least the FIFA award has some transparency and is much closer to reality . That is hardly the case with the Asian version of the award.

Take a look at this simple and no brainer  list of quality Asian players who had made headlines in Europe with their exploits in European Champions League and the Leagues like Son Heung-min (Tottenham) , Sardar Azmoun (FC Rostov) and Keisuke Honda (AC Milan)  and what AFC thinks who should the best in Asia 2016 based on God know what ; Omar Abdulrahman (AlAin & UAE) , Hammadi Ahmed (Air Force & Iraq) and Wu Lei (Shanghai SIPG & China PR)

Not that the AFC nominees are bad players, but when it comes to the top awards, the excellence has to be measured in a systematic method. There is no way that these players have anything near the three top Asian players in performance and quality, but then again you be the judge.

Big test awaits Korea in Iran match


By John Duerden

Korea coach Uli Stielike has been fond of saying lately that there are no easy games at this stage of qualification for the 2018 World Cup. This time, the German is definitely correct. The Taeguk Warriors are in Iran for another vital showdown.

Korea has never won in the country ― this is the fourth visit in the space of seven years ― but this would be a good time to start. Both teams have seven points from three games in the final round of qualification so far. Iran sits on top of Group A with a slightly better goal difference. Uzbekistan is third with six points, Syria has four, China one and Qatar has yet to pick up a point. The top two from the six-nation group automatically qualify for Russia 2018.

Stielike boarded the plane at Incheon International Airport on Friday a relieved man. At half-time in Thursday’s game with Qatar at Suwon World Cup Stadium, the visitor was leading 2-1. Second half goals from Ji Dong-won and in-form Son Heung-min gave the host a very important win. It means that a draw at the cavernous Azadi Stadium, which saw 100,000 attend the same fixture between the two teams four years ago, would not be a bad result.

“It’s not just the fact that Iran is a strong team,” said captain Ki Sung-yeung, who scored the opening goal against Qatar and generally had a much-improved game compared to September’s 3-2 win over China and 1-1 tie with Syria. “There is also the altitude which makes it difficult too.”

Tehran lies around 1,200 meters above sea level. There are lots of stadiums around the world that are higher but with limited time to acclimatize, it makes things just that little bit trickier.

Iran, looking to qualify for a first back-to-back World Cup, is going well under experienced coach Carlos Queiroz. The wily former Real Madrid coach has led Team Melli to a win over Qatar, a tie in China and then a fine 1-0 victory in Uzbekistan on Thursday. He rested a few regular starters for that match. Iran should be a little fresher for the big game.

It remains to be seen as to what condition Son Heung-min is in. The Tottenham Hotspur man scored the winning goal against Qatar. It was his sixth goal in six games ― the 24 year-old is one of the most in-form players in the world right now. Yet he took a little punishment from the Qataris and left the stadium with his ankle wrapped in ice. A precaution, said the staff, but he has played a lot of football lately.


Hong Jeong-ho will miss the game as he was harshly sent off on Thursday. That will leave his fellow defenders to deal with the threat of another of Asia’s big stars in Sardar Azmoun. The striker is hugely talented and has been linked with a move to Arsenal (the big London rivals of Son’s Spurs). At the moment, the striker, 21, plays his club football in Russia but a move further west is not far away.

Names such as Masoud Shojaei and Andranik Teymourian will be familiar to Korean fans who have grown accustomed to facing Iran on a regular basis. The big absence is the legendary midfielder Javad Nekounam who scored the winning goal in Tehran when the two met in qualification for the 2014 World Cup. The Prince of Persia has retired.

The faces come and go but the size of the fixture remains. Korea and Iran have nothing but mutual respect for each other. Whichever teams wins on Tuesday will take a major step towards the World Cup. Tehran will be no place for the faint-hearted.

Vahid Shamsaee wins AFC Futsal Player of the Year 2015 award

New Delhi: Lumpur: The Asian Football Confederation’s Annual Awards extravaganza was held to much acclaim in New Delhi, India on Sunday.

On a night when the AFC acknowledged the continent’s best players, officials and administrators, there can be little doubt that the high profile gathering in the Indian capital was nothing short of a resounding success.

From an impassioned speech about Asian football’s rise to power and bright future courtesy of AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, to stellar cultural performances and the crowning of the AFC Player of the Year, the evening provided something for everyone as glitz and glamour shared the stage with the continent’s finest.

Here’s a full list of the 2015 AFC Annual Awards winners:

AFC Member Association of the Year

Japan Football Association

Hong Kong Football Association

Bangladesh Football Federation

AFC Dream Asia Award

Chinese Football Association
Japan Football Association
Vietnam Football Federation

AFC National Team of the Year

Australia National Team

Japan Women’s National Team

AFC Coach of the Year

Ange Postecoglou (AUS)

Asako Takakura (JPN)

AFC Player of the Year

Ahmed Khalil (UAE)

To be announced at a later date

AFC President Recognition Awards for Grassroots Football



Brunei Darussalam

AFC Fair Play Association of the Year

Japan Football Association

AFC Club of the Year

Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN)

AFC Futsal Player of the Year

Vahid Shamsaee (IRN)

AFC Futsal Team of the Year

Tasisat Daryaei (IRN)

AFC Youth Player of the Year

Dostonbek Khamdamov (UZB)

Rikako Kobayashi (JPN)

AFC Foreign Player of the Year

Ricardo Goulart Pereira (BRA)

AFC Asian International Player of the Year

Son Heung-min (KOR)


Individual Honors of Vahid Shamsaee