The United Arab Emirates fell agonisingly short of the result they not only needed but deserved at Brisbane Stadium tonight, conceding a 91st minute goal to lose 1-0 to Iran and finish second in Group C.
The loss continues a horrid run against the Iranians for the UAE, having never defeated them in a competitive fixture, and will likely pit them against Asian powerhouse Japan in the Asian Cup quarter-finals.
Iran substitute Reza Ghoochannejhad’s headed goal was scant reward for Mahdi Ali’s men, who played with the verve, style and fluency which has already won them many admirers in Australia.
Post-match, Ali was critical of the Asian Football Confederation’s selection of a Japanese match official, considering Japan was the likely opponent for one of the two sides in action.
The UAE coach had an animated discussion with match referee Ryuji Sato at half time and, while he stopped short declaring any direct wrong doing by the match official, questioned the appointment.
“We were deeper at the end of the match because of the fouls given by the referee,” Ali said.
“I’m just surprised at how the game was given to a Japanese referee and maybe we play against Japan.
“The first foul committed after half time, in our opinion it was not a foul and he gave a yellow card to a player who will be suspended for the next game.
“I think this question on the referee needs to be transferred to the AFC.”
In regards to the result, Ali was philosophical about his team’s narrow loss and praised his side’s enterprising play.
The UAE boss refused to blame lack of a killer punch in the attacking third as the reason his side fell short of their target of topping their group, instead switching his attention to facing Japan.
“Sometimes you play good and you lose, sometimes you don’t play good and you win,” he said.
“Today we don’t deserve to lose the game, but this is football.
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“We lost the game, but we’re still in the competition. We have to think about [Japan], we played good but we need to work hard on our next game.”
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz predictably refused to pass comment on the referee, but praised his side’s ability to make the most of their limited time on the ball throughout the 90 minutes.
“The players played with a lot of concentration, with a fantastic attitude,” Queiroz said.
“I think we gave UAE their passing game, we played our penetration movements better than them – so they had more passes but we had more shots on goal.
“The game was emotional and skillful, both sets of players deserve congratulations and appreciation from both sets of fans.”
The opponents for both teams will be decided in tomorrow’s Group D matches with Japan facing Jordan in Melbourne and Iraq taking on Palestine. The latter are the only side that cannot progress to the quarter-finals.
Iran: Haghighi 6; Pouraliganji 7; Pooladi 6, Hosseini 7, Heydari 6; Nekounam 6, Teymourian 6; Rafiei 6, Amiry 8, Jahanbakhsh 8; Azmoun 8; Subs: Ghafouri 4, Ghoochannejhad 6, Dejagah 5
UAE: Naser 7; Ahmed 8, Abbas 8, Salem 7, Sanquor 7; Esmaeel 8, Amer Abdulrahman 7; Fardan 7, Omar 9, Mabkhout 7; Khalil 8
Substitute Reza Ghoochannejhad scored in the first minute of stoppage time Monday to give Iran a thrilling 1-0 win over the United Arab Emirates and top spot in Group C of the Asian Cup.
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Ghoochannejhad, nicknamed "Gucci", headed the ball past keeper Alireza Haghighi after a scramble in the box to send the majority-Iranian crowd of over 11,000 into raptures.
The win means Iran will now play the runners-up in Group D in the quarter-finals, probably Iraq or Jordan, and avoid a likely clash with defending champions Japan.
The entertaining match looked headed for the first draw of the tournament until the Charlton Athletic forward popped up with the winner, beating the offside trap.
The match produced some of the most exciting football of the tournament as the two teams went for all-out attack.
In a fast-paced opening to the game both teams had good chances as the play went from end to end.
UAE's Khamis Esmaeel unleashed a blistering shot from 25 yards out that just sailed wide, before teammate Omar Abdulrahman caused Iranian flutters when he ghosted into the box on the 10-minute mark, only for the defenders to put the ball behind for a corner.
However, the Iranians came storming back and had two great chances of their own, first Sardar Azmoun's shot was deflected for a corner and then Alireza Jahanbakhsh headed straight to keeper Majed Naser.
UAE went close again three minutes before the break when Ali Mabkhout fired a dangerous ball across the face of goal but a sliding Habib Al Fardan arrived just too late to meet it.
The second half was just as thrilling as both teams threw everything they had at each other without creating any clear scoring chances.
But just when the draw seemed certain Iran's super-sub sealed the win for the three-time champions.
Late Ahmed chip leaves Qatar red-faced
Sayed Ahmed scored a glorious late chip as Bahrain shattered Qatar 2-1 and left the future World Cup hosts ruing a string of missed chances in their Asian Cup dead rubber on Monday.
With both teams already eliminated, the match in Sydney was heading for a draw until Ahmed spotted Qatar 'keeper Qasem Burhan off his line and embarrassed him in the 82nd minute.
The defeat was a disaster for Gulf Cup champions Qatar, who came to Australia with high hopes but leave with much to ponder as they build towards the 2022 World Cup.
With little but pride at stake at a cool, damp and sparsely attended Stadium Australia, both sides showed little caution as chances flowed at both ends.
Qatar's Ali Asadalla had the goal at his mercy but chose to pass, and striker Mohammed Muntari nearly scored three with his head in the first half, crashing one effort off the post.
Hasan Al Haydos had a shot cleared off the line while at the other end, Bahrain's Shubbar also shuddered the upright with a header before he made the breakthrough on 32 minutes.
The Moroccan-born Faouzi Aaish ran through a crowd of defenders and cut back to Shubbar, who checked before picking his spot and ramming Bahrain ahead.
Qatar's Boualem Khoukhi forced a point-blank save from Hamed Aldoseri before half-time, and their frustrations grew after the break when Muntari had a goal ruled out for offside.
The eventual equaliser was soft, as Al Haydos's grass-cutting free kick crept under the leaping wall and into the bottom right corner on 68 minutes.
Muntari kicked the post in anger when yet another flying header sailed narrowly over, and he was guilty of a howling miss on 78 minutes when he shot wide from six yards out.
And Qatar were made to fully regret their missed opportunities eight minutes from time, when Ahmed saw his chance and chipped perfectly past the stranded Burhan.
Iran will take on the United Arab Emirates in the final Group C match of the Asian Cup.
Carlos Queiroz's troops and The Whites are level on six points atop the group after both sides managed to win their previous two group games, sealing qualification into the quarter-finals in the process.
However, things are far from over and both sides will be aiming to secure top spot.
You can follow all the action live here on Sport360.com.