Iran eased the pressure on their under-fire coach Afshin Ghotbi by qualifying for the 2011 Asian Cup finals after beating Singapore 3-1 yesterday.
On a humid night in the city state, Ghotbi, dressed in a suit jacket, anxiously prowled his technical area throughout despite 11th and 12th minute goals from Hadi Aghily and Mehrzad Madanchi setting Iran on their way.
Ghotbi had been under pressure from Iranian fans and media after a humiliating loss to Jordan in November and supporters handed out posters of the coach with his face crossed out before kick-off.
Singapore captain Mohamed Alam Shah pulled a goal back for the home side before half-time but substitute Gholamreza Rezaei broke away to seal the win in the 63rd minute for Iran with a delightful chip.
The result meant the three-time Asian Champions finished top of Group E with a game to spare on 10 points from five matches.
Perennial underachievers China secured their berth with a hard-fought goalless draw in Zhejiang against Syria in Group D.
But Gao Hongbo’s team had to wait an agonizing 40 minutes to hear the result from Beirut, where minnows Lebanon held Vietnam to a 1-1 draw which sent the Chinese through.
It was sweet revenge for China who lost 3-2 to Syria at the start of the qualifying campaign almost a year ago under caretaker coach Yin Tiesheng, but since then have recorded three straight wins before yesterday’s draw.