Iran vow to be at their best in final
Coach Peiravani fires warning to final opponents Singapore
FAS U-21 INTERNATIONAL CHALLENGE CUP
IRAN U-21 1 (MOHAMMAD GHOLAMREZA 18)
UZBEKISTAN U-21 1
(MUKHITDINOV SHAROF 90)
- Iran win 5-4 on penalties.
Crunching tackles, contentious refereeing decisions, a last-minute equaliser and a nail-biting penalty shoot-out.
There was no lack of drama at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Under-21 International Challenge Cup opener between the Under-21 sides of Iran and Uzbekistan at Bishan Stadium yesterday.
In the end, it was Iran who booked a place in the final of the inaugural quadrangular. They edged out the Uzbeks 5-4 on penalties after the match had finished 1-1 in regulation time.
Iran head coach Amir Hossein Peiravani was pleased with the outcome, although he admitted that Uzbekistan were the better side.
"Today was a very difficult game for us," said the 41-year-old.
"Uzbekistan are a very good team, they have good communication and are good in transition from defence to attack.
"They created a lot of chances and could have scored more goals, but we defended well and we scored when we needed to.
"We could not stop them from scoring in the 90th minute, but my players held their nerves and came out winners in the penalty shoot-out."
Peiravani is confident that his team will hit top gear in the final on Saturday, when they face Singapore's U-21 side, who thrashed the Hong Kong U-21s 5-0 yesterday.
"To the fans of Singapore, I promise they will definitely see a better Iran team in the final," he said with a wry smile.
Iran, comprising mostly Under-19 players, broke the deadlock after 18 minutes.
The ball pinged around in the Uzbek penalty box before it fell into the path of Mohammad Gholamreza, who made no mistake from the edge of the penalty box.
The goal only fired up Uzbekistan, who pressed forward in search of an equaliser, but were let down by poor finishing.
Their misery in the first half was compounded when Davlatjonov Saidjamol was shown a yellow card by referee Taqi Johari for an alleged dive in the 34th minute, after he looked to have been hacked down in the penalty box by Iran goalkeeper Shahab Adeli.
The Uzbeks increased the pressure after the interval, mounting wave after wave of attack, but the Iranian defence stood firm.
Then, with seconds left on the clock, Mukhitdinov Sharof tried his luck from nearly 20 metres out and his shot took a wicked deflection off an Iranian player before looping over a wrong-footed Adeli.
The equaliser sparked wild celebrations in the Uzbekistan dugout and forced a penalty shoot-out.
But the Uzbeks were left to suffer a heartbreak when Hossein Saki coolly converted Iran's fifth spot-kick to send his team into the final.
"Those who understand football would admit that we deserved a better result," lamented Uzbekistan coach Abduraimov Jasur.
"I want my players, who did very well today, to take this as a learning experience and improve for our next game (third-placing match with Hong Kong)."
To the fans of Singapore, I promise they will definitely see a better Iran team in the final.
- Iran U-21 coach Amir Hossein Peiravani (above)