SYDNEY (AFP) – Sardar Azmoun’s fabulous solo goal earned Iran a 1-0 win over Qatar and a place in the Asian Cup quarter-finals alongside United Arab Emirates on Thursday.
Solid Qatari defending kept Iran at bay until shortly after half-time when Azmoun’s instinctive touch and shot ended their resistance and sent a partisan crowd wild.
Carlos Queiroz’s Team Melli are now into the quarter-finals for the sixth time in a row and continue to look strong contenders to break their 39-year Asian Cup drought.
But Qatar crashed out just weeks after winning the Gulf Cup in November and they exit Group C alongside Bahrain, eliminated after a 2-1 loss to UAE earlier.
As Iranian fans celebrated outside the stadium, Queiroz, who has worked with Real Madrid, Manchester United and Portugal, hailed Azmoun’s strike as “brilliant”.
Qatari coach Djamel Belmadi said despite a huge improvement on their 4-1 loss to UAE, his team had paid dearly for their errors against Iran.
Noisy Iranian fans made for a festive atmosphere at Stadium Australia but the party did not get going on the pitch as the three-time champions struggled to break down a resilient Qatar side.
Rubin Kazan forward Azmoun, a former target of Premier League giants Arsenal and Liverpool, was in the thick of the action and had a header saved early on.
The Qatari defence also reacted sharply to smother another promising chance when Ashkan Dejagah picked out the young striker in the box.
As half-time beckoned, Morteza Pouraliganji had a header cleared off the line and the busy, Qatar-based Dejagah cut in from the right and fired across the face of goal.
Iran looked to be running out of ideas until Azmoun lit up the Sydney evening and ignited the crowd with his fabulous touch and goal on 52 minutes.