Three-times champions Iran came through an early scare before marching confidently into the Asian Cup quarter-finals for the 13th time in 14 attempts with a 2-0 victory over a spirited Oman team on Sunday.
Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand saved an Oman penalty in the opening minute but a goal from winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh and a successful spot-kick from captain Ashkan Dejagah put them firmly in control at halftime.
The Iranians were unable to add any more goals in the second half but there was never any real doubt they would return to the same stadium on Thursday to meet Marcello Lippi’s China, 2-1 winners over Thailand in Al Ain earlier on Sunday.
“It started with an unusual situation and a great save (but) we controlled the whole game and we could have stopped it earlier with a third or fourth goal,” said coach Carlos Queiroz.
“We can’t miss those kind of chances. We need to play with a killer instinct, we need to put those opportunities in the net.”
Oman, in the knockout stages of the Asian Cup for the first time and roared on by a large part of the 32,000 crowd, never flagged and will forever ponder what might have been had Ahmed Mubarak converted the early penalty.
Striker Muhsen Al-Ghassani, Oman’s best player, was hauled down by centre back Majid Hosseini but Beiranvand dived low to his right to deny the Oman skipper, just as he had Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo at last year’s World Cup.
The quality of Iran’s forward line was always going to cause Oman problems and Sardar Azmoun had the first of many shots at goal as early as the fourth minute.
Jahanbakhsh was soon causing the Oman defence problems down the right flank but it was from a more central position that he opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, pouncing on a defensive error and poking the ball into the net.
Dejagah doubled the lead five minutes before the break after Mehdi Taremi had been bundled over in the box but Al-Ghassani quickly gave a reminder that Oman were not done with a powerful shot that Beiranvand tipped over the bar.
Oman coach Pim Verbeek switched to a 4-4-2 formation at the break to chase the game but that opened up more space at the back and only the profligacy of the Iran forwards kept the lead at two goals.
Taremi and Azmoun vied for the title of worst offender but the Iran defence, yet to concede a goal in four matches, ensured Team Melli remained on track to end the 43-year drought since their last continental title in 1976.
“The penalty would have helped (but) we tried everything possible to score a goal and Iran kept us under control,” said Verbeek, adding that he would be staying on as coach of Oman.
Marcello Lippi’s China come from behind to beat Thailand
Marcello Lippi masterminded a second-half comeback to ensure China advanced to the last eight of the Asian Cup on Sunday with a 2-1 win over Thailand.
Lippi’s introduction of veteran Guangzhou R&F striker Xiao Zhi allowed the Chinese to turn their domination into goals as Xiao and Gao Lin netted to cancel out Supachai Chaided’s first-half opener.
“We didn’t play very well in the first half because we made mistakes, but I’m very happy with the reaction of my players in the second half,” said Lippi. “We were able to create many chances to score and we could have scored more.”
China, who now play either Iran or Oman, were pushed all the way by their spirited opponents.
The Thais fired a warning in the 27th minute when Teerasil Dangda’s deft header gave Supachai just enough space to fire off an attempt at goal only for the ball to go wide off Yan Junling’s left upright.
There was no let-off four minutes later as poor defending allowed the Thais to take the lead. Theerathon Bunmathan’s corner was only cleared as far as Thitiphan Puangchan and his miss-hit shot ended at the feet of Supachai who turned and slotted home.
China offered little in the first 45 minutes and Supachai put them on the back foot again five minutes after the opener, only to drag his long-distance shot wide.
The second half, though, saw China emerge in more determined fashion, with Wu Lei and Yu Dabao going close before Xiao’s introduction for Yu in the 64th minute swung the game.
Xiao levelled just three minutes later when he scored on the rebound after Siwarak Tedsungnoen had saved his downward header and, after a further four minutes, China were in front.
Gao Lin had his heels clipped in the area by Tanaboon Kesarat as he ventured toward goal and the Guangzhou Evergrande forward picked himself up off the turf to fire the spot-kick into the top corner.
Vietnam beat Jordan on penalties to reach Asian Cup quarters
Earlier Sunday, Vietnam surprised an on-form Jordan team on penalties to reach the quarterfinals.
The 20-year-old midfielder Bui Tien Dung stroked the winning penalty into the bottom-left corner as Vietnam won the shootout 4-2 after the game finished 1-1 following extra time. Vietnam took the initiative in the shootout after Jordan’s Baha Seif hammered a penalty onto the crossbar and Vietnam’s Russian-born keeper Dang Van Lam leapt to palm away Ahmed Salah’s shot.
Despite being nine places higher in the world rankings, Vietnam was something of an underdog given it had only once before played an Asian Cup knockout game and Jordan had beaten reigning champion Australia in the group stage.
Jordan took the lead in the 39th minute after referee Alireza Faghani gave a rare indirect free kick inside the penalty area for a high foot. After the slightest of touches from a teammate, Baha Abdel-Rahman blasted the ball into the net from a tight angle.
After struggling to create chances in the first half, Vietnam was more incisive after halftime. In the 51st, Nguyen Cong Phuong flicked teammate Nguyen Trong Hoang’s cross high into the net. Shortly after, a Jordan defensive blunder nearly gave Vietnam the lead but Anas Bani Yaseen rushed back to clear the ball off the line.
Vietnam will play either Japan or Saudi Arabia in its first Asian Cup quarterfinal since 2007.
It’s the first time the Asian Cup has had a last-16 round after expanding to 24 teams.