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Isa Town: Reza Jafari’s brace booked Islamic Republic of Iran a place in the semi-finals of the AFC U-19 Championship Bahrain 2016 on Monday evening as Amir Peiravani’s side handed Uzbekistan a 2-0 defeat to also qualify for the finals of next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic.

A goal in each half from Jafari sets up a meeting with Saudi Arabia in the last four, and also sees the Iranians qualify for the finals of the global youth tournament for the first time since 2001.

Jafari’s two well-taken goals were backed up by a resolute defensive performance by Iran, who largely limited Uzbekistan to a series of attempts from outside the area that caused goalkeeper Shahab Adeli few problems.

After making a raft of changes for his side’s final group match against China, Uzbekistan coach Jasur Abduraimov reverted to his preferred starting line-up as the Central Asian side set their sights on qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup for the third tournament in a row.

It was the Iranians, though, who made the strongest start and, by the 13th minute, Peiravani’s team had taken the lead. Abolfazl Razzaghpour’s free kick into the box was miss-controlled by Reza Shekari before the ball fell at the feet of Jafari and he thumped his shot beyond Umidjon Khamroev.

Uzbekistan pushed for the equaliser throughout the remainder of the half, but the Iranian defence restricted their opponents to attempts from long range.

Jasurbek Yakhshiboev slalomed his way into the area, only to see his shot blocked, before a series of attempts by Sharof Mukhitdinov from distance. The first from 30 yards was just over the bar while a free kick from similar distance was collected by Adeli at the second attempt. Meanwhile, Khojiakbar Alijonov’s shot hit the side netting 11 minutes before the break.

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Less than two minutes after the restart, Iran doubled their lead, this time capitalising on some slack play in midfield by the Uzbeks. Shekari picked up possession just inside his own half and played a quick ball forward into the path of Jafari, who outsprinted Islom Kobilov before slotting the ball past Khamroev.

Another Mukhitdinov attempt flew over before Shekari squandered the chance to put the outcome beyond doubt when he dragged his attempt at goal well wide of the target, while with 18 minutes remaining Husniddin Gofurov missed the opportunity to pull Uzbekistan back into the game when he headed over the bar from less than six yards out.

The Uzbeks continued to press - and Shahab was forced to make a spectacular one-handed save from Yakhshiboev in the dying seconds - but Iran’s disciplined backline gave little away as Peiravani’s team closed out the game to seal an historic result.

Photo: AFC