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IR Iran through after surviving Lebanon challenge


Tabriz: Islamic Republic of Iran needed extra time to see off the plucky challenge of Lebanon, winning 3-2 to seal their place in the semi-finals of the AFC U-20 Futsal Championship IR Iran 2019 on Tuesday.

Iran will play Japan in Thursday's semi-final after the East Asians defeated 2017 runners-up Iraq in their last eight tie earlier on Tuesday.

The other semi-final will see Indonesia taking on Afghanistan.

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Iran entered the match as clear favourites after progressing into the quarter-finals undefeated as Group A winners. On top of that, the host nation had also beaten Lebanon two years ago at the same stage.

Lebanon, meanwhile, lost to Thailand two days ago to finish Group B runners-up, but were looking to shock Iran.

The opening minutes were equal but Iran gradually gained more possession of the ball as the game wore on, and were creating more opportunities with their quick passes.

In one such instance in the eighth minute, Iran forced the Lebanon players to come forward leaving unmarked Ali Aghapour plenty of space and time to send the ball past goalkeeper Victor Hanna Gerges for Iran to take the lead.

Lebanon, however, were undaunted and kept pressing and despite not finding the equaliser, would have taken heart from the fact that they only trailed by one at the half-time break.

Iran’s dominance continued well into the second half but failed to increase their lead thanks to a rock solid Lebanese defending. 

Sahand Rezapour came close to doubling Iran’s lead in the 34th minute after beating two defenders but smashed his right-footed effort against the post.

Determined to extend their stay in the AFC U-20 Futsal Championship, Lebanon sent on Hussein Hamieh as the power player in the 38th minute and his impact was instant. 

Iranian goalkeeper Mohammadali Niknamtoghabe, who had been untroubled for most of the second period, was called into action moments later to pull off a double save to deny Hamieh and Mohamad Elkaisst.

Iran were left to rue their missed opportunities when Lebanon’s Jamal Selwan found the back of the net with a quick twist and turn strike, to force extra time.

The woodwork continued to be Iran’s main adversary in extra time, as Rezapour struck the upright again after Reza Ghanbarisaeidabad’s free-kick deflected off the Lebanese wall in the 43rd minute. 

It took Iran 37 minutes to find their second goal, and Aghapour received all the credit with his crackling strike from near the half-line mark into the top right corner of the net that left Hanna Gerges rooted to the ground. 

Aghapour turned provider in the 48th minute through a corner set-piece, and Ghanbarisaeidabad directed the ball into the net with ease to make it 3-1. 

Captain Steve Koukezian pulled one back a minute later, but Lebanon still suffered heartbreak as Iran held on to book their place in the last four.


Hamid Moghadam: IR Iran head coach

“I don’t know why this happens to Iranian teams a lot, when the easiest game becomes the hardest game. Maybe it’s got to do with the mentality, and we need to change that. I didn’t expect such a hard game, and that the match would be a draw. We lost so many chances, and if we had utilised our chances, we wouldn’t have been under pressure. Not scoring goals and the ball not going into the area is two different things. We had created many chances, and sometimes you’re unlucky in scoring. We hit the crossbar so many times I lost count, but that’s futsal."

Tarek Rizk: Lebanon head coach

“Honestly, after the match against Thailand, people said this would be the easiest quarter-final. I told my players that it was not my team against Thailand, and we tried to adjust it. Previously, we knew we couldn’t compete with Thailand, and Iran wasn’t far from it. So we adjusted our mistakes and defended from our hearts and mind. I’m so proud of my boys, so proud that the Lebanese futsal committee trusted me and I hope that we have given a good image of Lebanese futsal as we look forward.”

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