Title-chasing Iran survived a first-minute penalty in a chaotic start to beat Oman 2-0 and reach the Asian Cup quarter-finals yesterday. Beanpole goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand saved from the spot before goals from Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Ashkan Dejagah in Abu Dhabi sent Iran through to face China, who beat Thailand 2-1 in an early kickoff.
Beiranvand saved a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty at last year’s World Cup and he plunged to his right to brilliantly deny Oman captain Ahmed al-Mahaijri and prevent Oman taking a shock lead just moments into the game.
Iran, who are looking to end a 43-year-old Asian Cup title drought, broke through after 32 minutes when Brighton forward Jahanbakhsh latched onto a hopeful long ball to poke the ball past Oman goalkeeper Faiyz al-Rusheidi. “Team Melli” captain Dejagah lashed home a penalty four minutes before the break after Mehdi Taremi had been brought down. Beiranvand produced an acrobatic save to keep out Muhsen al-Ghassani’s long-range strike just before the half-time whistle. Sardar Azmoun — dubbed the “Iranian Messi” — twice fluffed his lines after the interval when it looked easier to score. Taremi subsequently squandered two gilt-edged chances, but Iran were largely content to see out a one-sided game.
In Al Ain, Coach Marcello Lippi hailed China’s fightback after they staged a second-half revival to beat Thailand 2-1 and reach the quarter-finals. The giant nation were all at sea as they fell behind to Supachai Jaided’s opener but they hit back after the break through substitute Xiao Zhi and Gao Lin’s well-taken penalty. It meant China live to fight another day under Lippi, who is expected to step down after the Asian Cup, while Thailand will know they were beaten by a superior team. “I’m very satisfied with the win. It was not an easy game because the opponent was very tough,” said Lippi, who coached his native Italy to victory at the 2006 World Cup.
In an open start, Theerathon Bunmathan saw a free kick tipped over and Wu Lei had an attempt smothered by Thai goalkeeper Siwarak Tedsungnoen before Thailand went ahead on 31 minutes. From a corner, in front of Thailand’s drumming and singing fans, Thitiphan Puangjan’s miscued shot fell to Supachai, who turned and rammed it past Chinese goalie Yan Junling from close range.
The chances were falling thick and fast for Thailand and Chanathip Songkrasin was adjudged to have fouled Feng Xiaoting as he jinked his way into a scoring opportunity. China looked distinctly rattled, but they nearly hit back just before half-time when Yu Dabao flashed his header wide from Hao Junmin’s free kick.
China’s star man Wu Lei, who missed their final group game with a shoulder injury, missed a series of chances after the break, including one when he embarrassingly sliced an easy shot well wide. But a resurgent China were piercing the Thai defence again and again and on the hour mark, only Siwarak’s legs preserved Thailand’s lead when he parried Yu’s goal-bound shot from point-blank range.
China finally scored midway through the second half when substitute forward Xiao, three minutes after coming on, headed straight at Siwarak before prodding home the rebound. The onslaught didn’t stop and after Gao was brought down by Chalermpong Kerdkaew, he nervelessly swept the spot-kick high into the net for a 2-1 lead.
Thailand weren’t going down without a fight and in injury time, Teerasil Dangda wasted a good chance and Pansa Hemviboon had Yan at full stretch with a powerful shot. But ultimately it was China who joined Vietnam in the last eight, after the Southeast Asian champions stunned Jordan on penalties after a tense 1-1 draw in Dubai. It ends a rollercoaster tournament for Thailand, who sacked their coach Milovan Rajevac after their 4-1 drubbing by India but recovered well to reach the last 16.
In Dubai, Vietnam emerged victorious from a penalty shoot out with Jordan to reach quarter-finals — after being the last side to scrape into the round of 16. After extra-time finished at 1-1, BT Dung rolled in the decisive spot-kick for a 4-2 penalties win and saluted the crowd after Baha Faisal and Ahmed Samir had missed for Jordan.
The dramatic win upset the odds after Jordan were the first to qualify for the knockouts, and Vietnam only went through because of their disciplinary record after they finished with an identical points and goals record to Lebanon.
However, the Southeast Asian champions came back from a goal down to force extra time, and they were on balance the stronger and more positive team over the 120 minutes. Vital Borkelmans’ Jordan came into the game as the form side and they spurned a number of chances before opening the scoring six minutes from half-time.
Baha Abdel-Rahman, taking a free kick from the right edge of the penalty area, hit it just right as the ball bent around the wall and flew into the top corner. However, the goal stung Vietnam into action and they nearly hit back when Hung Dung’s dipping shot was tipped over by Jordan goalkeeper Amer Shafi.
Vietnam, who won Southeast Asia’s Suzuki Cup in December, levelled six minutes after the break, when Cong Phuong showed great technique to steer home a volley from close range.
On the hour-mark, Van Duc nearly snatched it for the Vietnamese but his dink over Shafi was hacked off the line by Anas Bani-Yaseen. And Jordan’s Yaseen Bakheet had a great chance to grab the win in the first period of extra time, but from a high ball into the box he ballooned his volley over.
Dubai’s Al Maktoum Stadium was thick with tension for the spot-kicks and when Faisal hit the bar and Van Lam saved from Salih, Vietnam were very much in the driving seat. Shafi, diving low, saved Minh Vuong’s attempt but it was only delaying defeat as Dung coolly netted the winner, giving a military salute in celebration before being mobbed by his teammates.
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