Sardar fires Iran to knockouts

Iran’s forward Sardar Azmoun (left) celebrates after scoring against Vietnam in the Asian Cup. AFP

Iran sank Vietnam and Iraq beat Yemen as the neighbours and arch-rivals powered into the Asian Cup round of 16 on Saturday ahead of their highly anticipated group decider next week.

Sardar Azmoun struck both goals in Iran’s 2-0 win in Abu Dhabi, while teenager Mohanad Ali’s early solo strike kick-started Iraq’s 3-0 victory in Sharjah.

Iran and Iraq will meet in Dubai on Wednesday to decide who tops Group D in a repeat of their combustible quarterfinal of 2015, which Iraq won on penalties.

Saman Ghoddos and Mehdi Taremi went close for Asia’s top-ranked team before Azmoun rose to head home a Ghoddos cross after 38 minutes. The Rubin Kazan forward lashed in his third goal of the tournament from the edge of the box 20 minutes from time to give Iran a record ninth successive first-round victory dating back to 2007.

In Sharjah, 18-year-old Ali scored a wonderful solo goal to put Iraq 1-0 up after 11 minutes, although questions must be raised of the Yemeni defence.

Pouncing on a loose back pass, Ali held off three defenders before rifling his shot past Jalal Hassan in the Yemen goal.

Bashar Resan doubled Iraq’s lead midway through the first half when his deflected shot drifted in off the upright with Hassan slow to get across.

Ali hit the post in one of the rare highlights of the second half before Alaa Abbas struck in injury time, finishing sharply after Ahmed Yaseen’s header into his path. 

In Group E, Saudi Arabia defeated Lebanon 2-0 to enter the last 16.

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