Uzbeks stay on course

Ulugbek Bakaev slams winner against hosts Iran

Uzbekistan moved into pole position to qualify for a first World Cup when Ulugbek Bakaev struck the only goal to grab a precious 1-0 win away over Iran in Asian qualifying match on Wednesday.

The forward darted ahead of his marker to poke home Server Djeparov's brilliant free kick in the 71st minute to silence the passionate crowd in Tehran and dent the hosts' chances of a place in Brazil.

The Uzbeks went top of Group A of Asian qualifying with eight points from five matches, one ahead of South Korea, Qatar and their beaten opponents with only the top two guaranteed a place in Brazil.

The Iranians had been the better side for most of the first half but throughout qualifying they have found goals hard to come by and Wednesday was no different. The home side, who had scored only twice in their four matches in the group, thought they had taken the lead in the 12th minute through Mohammad Nori but the midfielder was called back from celebrating his strike after a team-mate strayed offside.

The early energetic display would have pleased Iran coach Carlos Queiroz, who was restricted to a place in the stands after being sent off in the 1-0 win over South Korea last month.

As the match wore on the technically superior visitors took control through midfield and grabbed the lead inevitably from a Djeparov free kick.

Qatar were playing host to Lebanon in the other match in the tiny Gulf country in a drab, defensive-minded encounter that sprung to life with a brilliant long-range goal from Sebastian Soria.

The Uruguyan-born striker's 30-metre effort leaving the visiting goalkeeper stationary and giving the Qatari's their second win of the campaign after following up their 1-0 success in Beirut in June. Qatar moved on to seven points from five matches in Group A level with South Korea.

Northern Ireland held

Substitute David Healy's last-gasp free kick rescued a point for Northern Ireland who drew 1-1 against Azerbaijan in their European World Cup qualifying Group F match at Windsor Park on Wednesday.

Rauf Aliyev had given the visitors an early lead with a memorable 30-metre curler but Healy threaded a free kick through the wall in the sixth minute of injury time.
Northern Ireland stayed fourth in the group on three points, one above Azerbaijan on two. Both sides are well behind group leaders Russia, who have won all four of their matches so far.

In Podgorica, two goals from Andrija Delibasic and another by Elsad Zverotic gave Montenegro a 3-0 home win over San Marino to send the tiny nation top of Europe's Group H above England.

Montenegro have 10 points from four matches, two more points than England from the same number of games.

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