Iran ready for Iraq after beating Vietnam

Sardar Azmoun celebrates scoring the second goal in Iran's victory over Vietnam. (AFP)
Updated 12 January 2019
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Iran ready for Iraq after beating Vietnam

  • Sardar Azmoun at the double as Team Melli continue impressive start.
  • Carlos Queiroz's team to face Iraq on Wednesday to decide which team will top the group.

ABU DHABI: Sardar Azmoun struck twice as Iran sank Vietnam 2-0 to reach the last 16 of the Asian Cup and set a new group-stage win record.
Iran, looking to end a 43-year title drought since last winning Asian football’s most coveted prize, could have scored four or five but for some poor finishing in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s a pity our performance didn’t produce a couple more goals,” Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said. “But winning is the best medicine in football. To win two games and score seven goals — I have to praise my players because I am very demanding.”
Saman Ghoddos and Mehdi Taremi went close for Asia’s top-ranked team before Azmoun rose to head home a Ghoddos cross after 38 minutes.
The Rubin Kazan forward lashed in his third goal of the tournament from the edge of the box 20 minutes from time to give Iran a ninth successive first-round victory dating back to 2007.
Co-favourites with South Korea to lift the Asian Cup, Iran crushed war-torn Yemen 5-0 in their opening Group D game.
They were indebted to goalkeeper Alireza Safar Beiranvand for a courageous save from Nguyen Cong Phuong but were barely ruffled by the southeast Asian champions.
“We just need to relax more,” said Queiroz. “We were anxious going after the third goal, but that final touch will come. Now we must think, feel, eat, drink, do everything to be focused on Iraq.”


Messi, Armani rescue Argentina in 1-1 draw with Paraguay

Updated 50 min 2 sec ago
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Messi, Armani rescue Argentina in 1-1 draw with Paraguay

  • The draw left Argentina with one point from two games and on the bottom of the table with one game remaining

BELO HORIZONTE: A Lionel Messi penalty salvaged a 1-1 draw for Argentina against Paraguay on Wednesday as the two-time world champions once again struggled at the Copa America.

Messi swept in a 57th-minute spot kick at Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao Stadium to cancel out a first-half opener from Paraguay’s Richard Sanchez.

Argentina also had goalkeeper Franco Armani to thank for a second half penalty save that prevented Paraguay from taking a 2-1 lead in the Group B battle.

The draw left Argentina with one point from two games and on the bottom of the table with one game remaining.

However, with the two best third- placed teams advancing to the quarterfinals, Argentina can still reach the last eight with a decisive win over Qatar in their final group game.

“We have to win,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said of his team’s date with Qatar. “We will take stock of what we did well and what we did not do well and we will make decisions. We are lucky that we are still alive in this tournament,” added Scaloni, singling out goalkeeper Armani for special praise.

“We trust Franco,” Scaloni said. “He is our starting goalkeeper. He saved a penalty and kept us alive. I’m glad he had a good performance.”

The South American giants will need to raise their game however to advance any further after another disjointed performance which followed their opening defeat to Colombia on Saturday.

A lackluster opening saw both sides struggle to generate any sort of attacking momentum, with neither side managing to get a shot on goal until Paraguay striker Derlis Gonzalez’s effort was deflected behind for a corner in the 29th minute.

From the ensuing setpiece, center-half Junior Alonso scooped a half-chance wide as Argentina escaped.

That flurry of activity spurred Argentina fleetingly at the other end, with Lautaro Martinez winning a free kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the area after a foul by Paraguay skipper Gustavo Gomez.

Messi, however, was unable to conjure anything from the free kick, floating his effort up and over the wall but without the pace to trouble goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez, who gathered comfortably.

In the 37th minute, however, Paraguay’s more organized performance got its reward.

A swift counterattack saw the ball transferred to Newcastle United’s Miguel Almiron near halfway.

The livewire forward turned on the after-burners to roast Roberto Pereya down the left wing before crossing for Sanchez who drove a low finish into the bottom corner of the Argentina net.

A rattled Argentina were given a huge let-off moments later when Armani came racing out of his area to shut down Gonzalez.

A wild kick brought down the Paraguayan player but Armani somehow escaped a red card and was only cautioned.

Scaloni went for broke at halftime, bolstering his attack with the introduction of Sergio Aguero and the move paid instant dividends.

Aguero deftly lost his marker on 51 minutes and pulled back for Martinez, whose shot cannoned off the woodwork. Messi pounced on the rebound but Fernandez blocked with a diving save.

The chance appeared to have gone begging but VAR had spotted that Martinez’s shot had in fact struck Ivan Piris’s arm before hitting the bar and Brazilian referee Wilson Sampaio pointed to the spot. Messi stepped up to sweep in the spot kick and Argentina were level.

Yet there was more drama in the 62nd minute when Paraguay’s Gonzalez burst into the box and was clumsily hacked down by Nicolas Otamendi for a clear penalty. Armani, who was fortunate to be on the pitch, dived the right way and parried Gonzalez’s spot kick wide.