Sun, Aug 08, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Iran gets win over Bahrain in playoff during Asian Cup

AP , BEIJING

Three-time champion Iran salvaged some pride Friday by claiming third place in the Asian Cup soccer tournament with a hard-fought 4-2 victory over surprising newcomer Bahrain in their playoff match.

Despite having two men sent off, Iran again showed the skills and grit that won it the title three times in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Playing for third place is always tough, especially against a hard team like Bahrain," said Branko Ivankovic, Iran's Croatian-born coach. "I am really satisfied."

Iranian midfielder Javad Nekounam opened the scoring in the 9th minute before 30,000 fans at Beijing's Workers' Stadium, pouncing on a short pass from captain Ali Daei inside the penalty box after Bahrain failed to clear the ball.

With most of its players starting for the first time in the tournament, Bahrain looked overwhelmed early in the first half, but gradually regained composure. In the second half, both sides adopted more open formations resulting in fast-paced play and a flurry of goals.

Bahrain coach Srecko Juricic, who also hails from Croatia, said his squad started the tournament as underdogs, but managed to finish in the top four.

"I'm satisfied with the performance," he said. "I think fourth place is the best possible for the Bahrain national team."

Talal Yusuf equalized for Bahrain three minutes into the second half with a free kick from 20m after Iran defender Yahya Golmonhammadi brought down Mohamed Saleem in front of the penalty area. Yusuf's right-footer curled around and above the wall to beat a diving Ebrahim Mirzapour.

Iran regained the lead within two minutes when striker Ali Karimi received a long pass off Mehdi Mahdavikia and beat two defenders to loft the ball over Bahrain goalkeeper Abdulrahman Abdul Karim.

By the 57th minute, the two sides were even again at 2-2. Mirzapour deflected a powerful header off Duaij Naser into the crossbar but it rebounded to Saleh Farhan who beat the 'keeper and two defenders in a goalmouth scramble to tap it in from point-blank range.

Iran played a man down from the 72nd minute after substitute Arash Borhani was sent off for a reckless tackle.

Iran took a 3-2 lead In the 77th minute after Karimi burst through Bahrain's defense from the right and was brought down by the 'keeper on the 6-yard line. Striker Ali Daei converted the spot kick, sending a low shot to the left as Abdul Karim dove to the opposite side.

Daei sealed the win just a minute before the end of regular time with a shot from the 6-yard line off a cross from the left by Mahdavikia, who had dribbled through to the right edge of the penalty area.

By placing fourth, Bahrain exceeded all expectations in what is just its second Asian Cup appearance.

China versus Japan

Amid heavy security in Beijing, host China and defending champion Japan readied Saturday for their showdown in the final of the Asian Cup, the continent's most important soccer championship.

More than 5,000 police and soldiers were be on hand at Worker's Stadium in the heart of the sprawling city of Beijing, following harassment of Japanese players and fans at previous matches -- the latest expression of widespread Chinese resentment of Japan.

Fans from across China, some of them in traditional Chinese robes and other elaborate costumes, began gathering at the stadium gates by midmorning, hours before the 8pm match was scheduled to start.

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