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Late strike seals title for IR Iran

Dushanbe: A late goal from Mahdi Hashemnezhad Rahimabadi gave Islamic Republic of Iran the point they needed to win the 2019 CAFA U-19 Championship title after they earned a 1-1 draw against 10-man Tajikistan at Dushanbe Central Stadium on Thursday.

Needing only to avoid defeat to hold off the hosts in the final match of the round-robin competition, Iran fell behind to a first-half goal from promising Tajikistan striker Rustam Soirov but hit back with Rahimabadi’s 80th-minute leveller to become the Central Asian champions.

Earlier in the day, Uzbekistan beat Turkmenistan 2-0 to finish third in the competition, which serves as preparation for the forthcoming 2020 AFC U-19 Championship Qualifiers.

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After 10 matches across five Matchdays, Mahdi Hashemnezhad Rahimabadi’s strike ultimately decided the destination of the title, as the Iranian midfielder found the net with 10 minutes remaining to give Sirous Pourmousavi’s side the solitary point they needed to win the title.

In a gripping finale, Tajikistan took a major step towards victory when Rustam Soirov continued a fine tournament with a lovely opening goal, but the hosts suffered a setback when Maucher Safarov was sent off just before half-time, with Rahimabadi’s decisive strike enough to send the title to Tehran.

The 1-1 draw meant Iran finished on top of the table with 10 points from four matches, while Tajikistan – who also remained unbeaten throughout the competition – finished second with a tally of eight.

While Iran needed only a draw to become regional champions, Tajikistan had no choice but to win, and with silverware on the line the heightened level of intensity was palpable in the early stages.

In what had become a de facto final, little quarter was given in a hard-fought and physical opening, with Iran marginally on top in terms of chance creation, albeit without any tangible reward.

Tajikistan went ahead in the 39th minute with a finish of pure class from Soirov, who beat the offside trap, touched the ball around onrushing goalkeeper Ahmed Hossein Nikpour and nonchalantly stroked the ball home from 15 yards to bring up his third goal of the tournament and bring an end to Iran’s perfect defensive record.

It was a goal worthy of the stage, but Tajikistan barely had time to reflect on their lead before they lost one of their key players in Manucher Safarov, who was sent off in the shadows of half-time.

Having already been booked in the 13th minute, Safarov found trouble after catching Yasin Salmani in the final minute of the first half, with the Tajikistan captain’s dismissal leaving the hosts to play out the remainder of the match at a numerical disadvantage.

But while they were a man down, Tajikistan remained a goal up, meaning they were largely content to sit back and soak up the pressure as Iran looked for a way back into the match.

What resulted was an opening period of the second half which was largely bereft of chances, as the remaining Tajikistan players consistently repelled whatever Iran threw at them.

But just as it looked like Tajikistan would weather the Iranian storm for long enough to claim the title, the visitors broke through with the crucial equaliser in the 80th minute.

After an exemplary half-hour spell from the Tajik defence, a rare heavy touch from Jonibek Sharipov presented an opportunity for Rahimabadi, with the midfielder squeezing the ball under Tajikistan goalkeeper Shohrukh Qirgizbaev and into the net from just inside the penalty area.

Both sides will be back in action when they host their respective groups in the AFC U-19 Championship 2020 Qualifiers, while many of Tajikistan’s squad also have the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil to look forward to later in the year.


Earlier on Thursday, Uzbekistan ended their campaign on a winning note, finishing the tournament in third place after accounting for Turkmenistan with a goal in each half.

With their title hopes dashed 48 hours prior, the defending champions took the lead when Odilbek Abdumajodiv curled a free-kick around the wall, past Turkmenistan goalkeeper Serdar Rovshenov and into the bottom corner of the net in the final minute of the first half.

Turkmenistan’s hopes of climbing off the bottom of the table were further dented 10 minutes into the second half when Begenchmyrat Myradov was sent off for a second bookable offence, before Ibrokhim Ibragimov sealed the win with an 83rd-minute penalty following a foul by Rovshenov.

Both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan will return to competitive action in November’s AFC U-19 Championship 2020 Qualifiers, where Uzbekistan will meet Saudi Arabia, India and Afghanistan, while Turkmenistan will meet Qatar, Yemen and Sri Lanka.

Champions: Islamic Republic of Iran
Runners-up: Tajikistan
Third place: Uzbekistan
Most Valuable Player: Amir Hossein Nikpour (IRN)
Topscorer: Shahrom Samiev (TJK)
Fair Play: IR Iran

Photos: Central Asian Football Association

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