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Group A: IR Iran 3-2 Afghanistan

Tabriz: Islamic Republic of Iran overcame a spirited challenge from Afghanistan to top Group A of the AFC U-20 Championship IR Iran 2019 with a 3-2 win over their Central Asian neighbours on Sunday.

Iran, who are looking to defend the title won in 2017, will face Lebanon in the quarter-finals while Afghanistan will take on Group B winners Thailand on Tuesday.

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Afghanistan knew that if they were to clinch the title, they would have to see off the challenge of Asia’s biggest teams and in Iran, they were up against the tournament favourites and defending champions. 

Afghanistan took the game to Iran, but the hosts were up for everything that was thrown at them, setting the stage for an exciting contest.

Backed by a partisan crowd, Iran were in front just three minutes in when Masoud Yousef Shavardazi outmuscled Hassan Ali Jafari at the half-line mark before surging forward and beating ‘keeper Mohammad Javad Safari from a tight angle.

Afghanistan could have, and should have, equalised a minute later when Jafari dispossessed Ali Akrami and set up Hamid Reza Hossaini for a sitter, but the forward opted to place the ball and missed by inches.

The intensity of the match was reflected by the fouls Afghanistan had accrued but they dominated possession as Iran were forced to defend deep.

After 15 minutes of constant pressure, Afghanistan found their equaliser through Ali Arab Zada, who connected to Seyed Hossein Mousavi’s perfectly timed pass in front of the goalmouth to ensure the scores were level at the break.

Iran, however, showed their class when Sahand Rezapour fended off Farzad Mahmoodi and sent the ball to Reza Ghanbarisaeidbad, who controlled the ball with confidence before slotting home in the 30th minute.

A moment of sheer brilliance by Shavardazi saw the host nation double their lead after he dribbled past two defenders and let loose an unstoppable strike a minute later.

A sixth foul was almost unavoidable for Afghanistan in such a physically-tensed match, and 35 minutes in, Iran were awarded a spot-kick from the second penalty spot but Aghapour missed an opportunity to extend the lead as he shot wide.

Mojtaba Mohammadi was sent on as the power player in the 38th minute and he delivered just moments later but a third goal which would have seen Afghanistan emerge as group winners proved elusive as Iran held on for the three points.

Hamid Moghadam: IR Iran head coach

“We were expecting such a tough and hard game. I had already said from the beginning that the hardest game would be against Afghanistan, because they understand Iranian futsal very well. Afghanistan has got a really good team, you will see how they will perform against other teams, but our strategy (in this game) was to push them, not 100 percent, but enough to lose the ball. In this tournament, all the teams are performing very well, but our aim is to claim the title once again."

Abdul Razaq Momrak: Afghanistan head coach

“Congratulations to Iran for winning this game. I’m satisfied with my players performance in this match. We lost this match, because they had more experience. Our tactic for this match was to press them from the beginning. We still anticipate to win the next game, and the next, and the Championship.”

Photos: AFC

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