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Estili: IR Iran switched off before half-time

Songkhla: Islamic Republic of Iran head coach Hamid Estili was left to lament a dip in his side’s first half performance, after they put their AFC U23 Championship quarter-final hopes in jeopardy with a 2-1 defeat to Korea Republic on Sunday.

Team Melli Omid created early chances, but the Koreans took full control of the first half from the 20-minute mark onwards, controlling proceedings and scoring goals through Lee Dong-jun and Cho Gue-sung to take a 2-0 half-time lead.

Reza Shekari pulled a goal back after the interval, but it was a case of too little, too late for Iran, who must now overturn a three-point deficit to second placed Uzbekistan on Matchday Three if they are to salvage a place in the knockout stage.

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“This was a really difficult match for us,” reflected former senior national team stalwart Estili.

“I think we started the game very well. The first 20 minutes we played well, didn’t make many mistakes, made a great chance for Mehdi Ghayedi and could have had the first goal, but after that I think some of the players fell asleep and forgot the rules (of the team)."

#AFCU23 - MD2 Group C: IR Iran 1-2 Korea Republic

“In those minutes (at the end of the first half) Korea Republic scored two goals. Some of the players didn’t run enough for us at that time.

“We had to make some changes for the second half, and in the second half everything was different. We had more control of the game and more of the ball. We made chances, we scored a goal and we could have scored others.

“I think we deserved to take a point from this match. I think we played well in the second half.”

The loss comes as a blow to Iran’s hopes of ending their 44-year Olympic football qualification drought.

They will now need to win against already-eliminated China on Wednesday to stand any chance of advancing in the tournament, but despite the damaging result suffered against the Koreans, Estili wasn’t wholly dissatisfied with his team’s performance.

“Between two matches we had just three days, and maybe our players were a little tired, but you need 23 ready players for this competition,” said Estili.

“Korea Republic changed many players and had a really ready team, but my players were tired in the second half.

“They did their very best to come back and get the result, but unfortunately we finished the match with this defeat.”

Korea Republic’s squad depth was also the topic of their head coach’s post-match remarks, with Kim Hak-bum praising his squad, who secured a place in the last eight with a game to spare thanks to Sunday’s win.

Kim believes every player in his 23-man squad can perform at a high level, and he was content with a second successive win.

“We have a lot of depth in our squad, and anyone in our squad can go on the pitch and deliver,” he said. "Even though some of our players played their first game of the tournament, I have faith all will do quite well in this tournament.”

“It was a tough game. We played our first game of the tournament at night, but this was played in daytime and the players really worked hard today.

“The goal we conceded was one that we shouldn’t have, but we’re still growing, and we will learn from what went wrong during this game.”

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