Football – Iran ease past Lebanon to close in on World Cup place

(Reuters) – Iran thrashed Lebanon 4-0 in Tehran on Tuesday to move into second place in Asia qualifying Group A and take control of their World Cup destiny.

Goals by Mohammad Khalatbari, Reza Ghoochannejhad and two from captain Javad Nekonam helped Iran move past Uzbekistan into the automatic qualifying places ahead of their final match away to South Korea next Tuesday.

The Koreans lead the group on 14 points from seven matches with Iran second on 13 and the Uzbeks third on 11 after their 1-0 loss in Seoul earlier on Tuesday.

The top two sides are guaranteed a place in Brazil with the third placed team also joining them if they can successfully negotiate a playoff against another Asian country and then a South American nation.

The Uzbeks host Qatar in their final game on Tuesday but Iran will be confident of edging them after finally finding their feet in front of goal with a dominant display against bottom side Lebanon.

The home side had only managed three goals in their opening six matches of the group and they seemed set on not adding to that total with some profligate finishing once again in the opening 30 minutes.

Ghoochannejhad had a flurry of chances to score but he wasted a free close range header and blasted another snap shot over the bar as Lebanon, already out of qualifying contention, struggled to stem the wave.

Midfielder Khalatbari eventually broke the deadlock in the 39th minute when he skipped through two challenges and slotted home a right foot shot from 12 metres, much to the relief of under-pressure Iran coach Carlos Queiroz on the sidelines.

Full back Khosro Heydari was causing problems for the visitors down the right and his cross set up the second goal in first-half stoppage time for Nekonam, the skipper rising highest to head home.

Iran were quick out of the blocks in the second half with Ghoochannejhad finally finding his range, cutting inside Hassan Daher to finish confidently in the 46th minute.

With the tight qualifying picture in Group A possibly coming down to goal difference, Iran pushed forward but Abbas Hassan in the Lebanon goal produced a number of good saves.

But Hassan was left motionless as Nekonam rounded off the scoring in the 86th minute when he fired home a long range effort to wrap up the scoring.

By Euro News


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