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Frontrunners IR Iran and Tajikistan set up final day showdown

Dushanbe: The CAFA U-19 Championship will go down to the wire, after Islamic Republic of Iran and hosts Tajikistan both extended their unbeaten records at Dushanbe Central Stadium on Tuesday.

While Iran made it three wins from as many matches with a 2-0 victory over Afghanistan, Tajikistan needed a 77th-minute Rustam Soirov goal to salvage a 2-2 draw against Uzbekistan, meaning the Iranians will only need to avoid defeat against the hosts in Thursday’s finale to win the round-robin competition.

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A brace from 16-year-old forward Aria Barzegar proved decisive as Iran extended their CAFA U-19 Championship winning streak to three with a 2-0 success against already-eliminated Afghanistan.

Having scored against Turkmenistan on Monday, the impressive Barzegar netted a headed goal in each half to take Iran to within 90 minutes of the regional title as Sirous Pourmasavi’s side kept another clean sheet to underline their quality at both ends of the pitch.

Barzegar opened his account in the 34th minute, finding the net at the near post after twisting his body to generate an impressive amount of power with a superb header following Alirzea Asad Abadi’s cross from the right.

Afghanistan’s bid for a first win in the competition suffered another blow when they were reduced to 10 men in the 62nd minute, with the promising Tareq Mohammadi – scorer of two goals earlier in the competition – shown a second yellow card.

Their task became nearly impossible when Barzegar scored his second, nodding home a free-kick from captain Ahmed Reza Jalali as Iran enjoyed a trouble-free road to the final day of fixtures on Thursday.


The hosts’ perfect record came to an end, but Rustam Soirov salvaged what may yet prove to be a crucial point as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan played out an entertaining 2-2 draw in the evening kick-off.

The result means Zaynidin Rakhimov’s side will still win the title if they can defeat Iran in what has developed into a virtual tournament final on Thursday.

Iran’s earlier win against Afghanistan meant any chance of Uzbekistan retaining their regional title had been dashed before kick-off, but Otabek Gulyamkhodjaev’s charges pushed Tajikistan all the way in a spirited encounter.

There was no early sign of the struggle to come for the Tajiks, particularly when Amadonio Kamolov curled in a delightful 25-yard opener in just the fifth minute, but Uzbekistan levelled at the half-hour mark through an Odilbek Abdumajodiv header to go to half-time on level terms.

Tajikistan fell behind for the first time when they were caught cold by a quickly-taken free-kick in the 62nd-minute, with Ibrokhimkhalil Yuldoshev showing the composure required to beat Shohrukh Qirgizbaev from 15 yards to make it 2-1 to the visitors.

With their unbeaten record in jeopardy, the 4,000 strong home crowd – the tournament’s biggest so far – urged Tajikistan on, and they were brought to their feet when substitute Soirov pounced on some sloppy defending to head home the equaliser with 13 minutes remaining.

The drama didn’t end there. Uzbekistan’s Hojimat Erkinov was shown a second yellow card in the second minute of stoppage time, and only goalkeeper Muminmirzo Qoirov’s fingertips prevented Soirov from heading in what would have been a last-gasp winner a minute later.

Despite the action packed second-half, the sides couldn’t be separated, leaving everything riding on Tajikistan’s meeting with frontrunners Iran, while only pride will be on the line in Uzbekistan’s remaining fixture against Turkmenistan.

Photos: Central Asian Football Association

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