Iran qualified themselves and Group C rivals UAE for the 2015 Asian Cup knockout stage on Thursday night with a 1-0 win over Qatar.
A crowd of more than 20,000 Team Melli supporters did little to tip the balance of the first half, with both sides equally sharing both possession and wasted chances.
Iran’s greatest chances came in the last five minutes of the half, once in the 41st minute when Morteza Pouraliganji’s header was cleared off the line and another time just two minutes later when Askhan Dejagah’s shot from the right of the box went wide.
Qatar on the other hand relied largely on Ghana-born Mohammed Muntari up front, though the 21 year old’s penchant for rough play threatened to get him in trouble on multiple occasions.
After the first half ended scoreless, Iran came out of the locker room slightly more aggressively and quickly earned a free kick outside of the Qatar penalty area. Javad Nekounam’s effort was for naught, though, sailing over the crossbar.
Just moments later, Sardar Azmoun broke the deadlock with a sliding shot past Qasem Burhan to give Team Melli the lead and send the crowd into a frenzy.
Qatar had a chance to equalize in the 56th minute, with Alireza Haghighi needing to punch Hassan Khalid’s free kick over the bar.
The 2022 World Cup hosts brought on Khalfan Ibrahim just short of the hour mark in relief of Ismaeel Mohammad, and minutes later goal-scorer Azmoun was taken off the pitch with what coach Carlos Queiroz surely hoped wasn’t a severe injury to his right ankle.
The Portuguese coach could be seen venting his frustrations as the game wound down, kicking a water bottle onto the pitch after his strikers failed to convert a solid chance in the Qatari end.
Burhan kept his team in contention with a couple of vital saves late in the match, but Qatar were unable to make any significant inroads into the final third as the seconds ticked down and the referee blew the final whistle.
The result means that Iran and the UAE, with six points each, will play each other to see who finishes first in Group C on January 19 in Brisbane. In the Both will play teams from Group D, featuring defending champions Japan and 2007 winners Iraq, in the quarterfinals.