Mon, Mar 30, 2009 - Page 18 News List

2010 FIFA WORLD CUP: Saudi rally to put huge dent in Iran's World Cup hopes

AFP , TEHRAN

Iran’s Hadi Aghili, right, and Masoud Shojaei, center, fight for the ball with Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Waleed Abdoullah during their World Cup qualifying match at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on Saturday.

PHOTO: AP

Saudi Arabia came from behind to collect a precious three points in Tehran after beating Asia’s other powerhouse Iran 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier on Saturday.

Iran, seeking a fourth appearance in the finals, are now fourth in Group B with six points from five games, while the Saudis leapfrogged their rivals with seven points from five matches.

The two Asian powerhouses met at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, filled almost to its 100,000 capacity.

Enthusiastic home fans chanted from the outset: “As always, Iran wins again,” and waved Iranian flags. However, their hopes were shattered with the loss, that allowed the Saudis to leapfrog them into third spot.

Iran drew first blood in the 56th minute when Masoud Shojaei, who plays at Osasuna in Spain, fired home a screamer from outside the penalty area to send the home crowd wild.

But defensive mix-ups cost the Iranians dear as the Saudis suddenly turned things around.

Ahamd al-Hazazi scored in the 78th minute from inside the box off a pass from Naif al-Dusari and Osama al-Harbi scored the winner in the 87th minute, stunning the fans into silence, with some chanting slogans against Iran national team coach Ali Daei and demanding his sacking.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is an avid player and fan, entered the stadium after 30 minutes amid cheers.

Newly appointed Saudi coach Jose Peseiro told reporters he was happy to secure an away win.

“Our players were able to take their chances and we secured a sweet victory in Tehran, which was like playing in an extraordinary situation,” said Peseiro, in reference to the massive crowd. “Currently both Koreas, Iran and we have the opportunity to make it to the World Cup finals, but I am telling you, we will fight to the end.”

Daei reacted angrily when he was inundated by reporters asking whether he would resign after his lackluster performance to date as national team coach.

“You reporters are not in a position to talk about my resignation. This is football — we lost to the Saudis on two accidents, but you should know that you can not mark the day I resign,” Daei said. “I accept the [responsibility for the] defeat and I apologize to the Iranian people. But we still have the opportunity to make it to the World Cup.”

Iran appeared in the World Cup finals in 1978, 1998 and 2006, but their only win to date was over the US in France in 1998.

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