Iran, South Korea book tickets to World Cup
Iran beat South Korea 1-0 today in a match that secured both teams a spot at next year's World Cup, though the Asian hosts only just scraped through and had to wait until after the final whistle to know their fate.
Iran finished top of Group A in the final stage of Asian qualifying, with South Korea in second place - level on points with Uzbekistan but ahead on goal difference.
Uzbekistan came from behind to win 5-1 at home against Qatar. However, the storming finish ultimately came up just short, leaving the Uzbeks with a goal difference of plus-five and South Korea on plus-six.
Iran's winner came in the 60th minute, when Kim Young-gwon failed to clear a speculative ball forward down Iran's right wing. Reza Ghoochannejad robbed him of possession, sprinted clear and sent a curling left-foot shot beyond goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryeong.
South Korea, not wanting to put its fate in the hands of the game in Uzbekistan, pressed forward for the remainder of the game but failed to find an equalizer.
Kim almost made up for his mistake, but his close-range shot in the 86th minute produced a reflex save from keeper Rahman Ahmadi and Jang Hyun-soo's follow-up effort was also blocked.
"My team played with a realistic approach, to try and wait for a weak point in the Korean team and with a counter-attacking attitude," Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said.
"The goal came in one of those situations and fortunately, when Korea created opportunities, our players fought for our lives. The team played with fantastic team spirit with great practical discipline and enormous determination."
The win set off celebrations across Iran, where the government had given a rare approval for supporters to spill into the streets. Outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and president-elect Hasan Rowhani in separate messages congratulated the team for reaching the World Cup.
As Iran players and officials celebrated wildly on the pitch, the South Korean squad and fans were kept in suspense while the last couple of minutes of the Uzbekistan game were played out, before they knew they were also through to next year's tournament in Brazil.
"We qualified but didn't finish with a satisfactory result," said outgoing coach Choi Kang-hee. "Today was a disappointing defeat but the players gave their best and I wish them luck in Brazil."
South Korea, missing a number of European-based stars, dominated the first half and despite going close through Son Heung-min and Lee Myung-joo, were unable to break down a well-drilled Iranian backline.
Son, who recently joined German team Bayer Leverkusen for 10 million euros, shot over from close range while Lee broke free of the Iran defenders but was unable to dribble around the goalkeeper.
After Iran's successful smash-and-grab goal in the 60th, South Korea's players were made aware Uzbekistan was rapidly closing the goal-difference gap, so pushed forward relentlessly in search of an equalizer.
Though it never came, South Korea had done enough in earlier games to secure an eighth-straight World Cup appearance.
Iran's berth in Brazil will be its fourth appearance at football's main event, having last reached the final tournament in Germany in 2006.