Thu, 28 Oct, 2021
The 1976 AFC Asian Cup was to prove a momentous occassion for Iran - for all the right reasons.
With three triumphs to their name, Iran are the joint-second most successful team in AFC Asian Cup history, on a par with Saudi Arabia and only behind four-time champions Japan.
But before the Saudis became a powerhouse by winning a hat-trick of titles between 1984 to 1996, and the emergence of Japan, who have been champions in four of the last six editions, Team Melli were Asia’s dominant force.
They won the tournament for the first time as hosts in 1968, before retaining their title four years later in Thailand when they recorded a 2-1 extra-time win over Korea Republic in the final.
And in 1976, Iran were once again triumphant on home soil as they claimed a third consecutive Asian Cup – a feat yet to be matched.
They got their Group B campaign off to a steady if unspectacular start at the Aryamehr Stadium in Tehran on June 4, defeating neighbours Iraq 2-0 courtesy of goals from Nasser Nouraei (45’) and Hassan Rowshan (57’).
Two days later, Iraq bounced back but only after facing a stern challenge from debutants South Yemen; Kazim Wa’al netting four minutes from time to hand his side a 1-0 win.
Iran were back in action on June 8 to finish off the group stage against South Yemen and if they had not lit up the stage previously, they certainly gave the home fans plenty to shout about after cruising to an 8-0 victory.
There was never really any doubt about the result from the moment Alireza Azizi fired them ahead in the 17th minute, before goals from Nouraei (40’, 42’) and Alireza Khorshidi (45’) handed them a commanding lead at the break.
However, Team Melli showed no signs of letting up in the second half and Gholam Hossein Mazloumi stole the show with a clinical hat-trick (63’, 74’, 80’), while Azizi also found the back of the net once more in the 73rd minute.
Meanwhile, the Group A action in Tabriz got underway on June 3 at the Bagh Shomal Stadium, as goals from Abdulaziz Alanbari (10’) and Faisal Al Dakheil (42’) handed Kuwait a 2-0 triumph over Malaysia, who were making their inaugural appearance in the competition.
The Malaysians managed to fare better two days later when they held China to a 1-1 draw although it could have been even more for them as they took the lead through Mokhtar Dahari’s 50th minute opener, only for Wang Jilian to equalise a minute from time and earn his side a share of the spoils.
Still, despite a 1-0 defeat to Kuwait – courtesy of Fat’hi Kameil’s first-minute winner – in their final group game, it was the Chinese who advanced to the last four at the expense of Malaysia as they bettered them on goal difference.
On to the knockout stage and the Kuwaitis were the first team to book their place in the final, although they needed extra-time to beat Iraq 3-2 at the Aryamehr Stadium. Kuwait twice took the lead through goals from Farouk Ibrahim (17’) and Kameil (77’), but Sabah Abduljalil (41’) and Falah Hassan (85’) netted as the Iraqis responded on both occasions to force extra-time.
Nonetheless, Kuwait refused to be deterred and went on to book their spot in the final when Kameil was on target once more in the 100th minute to net the winner.
Like the Kuwaitis, Iran were also posed a stern challenge in their semi-final against China and were unable to find the breakthrough in 90 minutes.
However, the Chinese resistance was eventually broken in extra-time as Khorshidi (100’) and Rowshan (119’) gave the hosts a 2-0 triumph.
On June 13, the stage was set at the Aryamehr Stadium with Iran looking to make it three Asian Cups in a row, while their opponents from Kuwait were bidding to be crowned continental champions for the first time.
In the end, Iran did not disappoint in front of 100,000 fans as Ali Parvin scored in the 73rd minute to hand his side a 1-0 win, confirming Team Melli’s status as Asia’s greatest side of that era.
There was also a landmark moment for China as they marked their maiden appearance with a third-place finish after He Jia struck six minutes after the hour mark to help them beat Iraq 1-0.