Singapore’s Asian Cup qualifying hopes still alive despite 1-3 loss to Iran

Singapore may have lost 1-3 to Iran tonight in their Group E Asian Cup qualifier at the National Stadium.

But the Lions can still reach their first Asian Cup finals since hosting the competition back in 1984 after Thailand failed to beat Jordan in Bangkok in the other Group E tie.

The Thais, coached by former Manchester United star Bryan Robson, were held to a 0-0 draw and the result means that Singapore and Thailand both have six points with Jordan on five and a game to play.

But it will be tough for Singapore though.

Reason: they have a tough away game on 3 March against  Jordan who are also in contention for the second qualifying spot in the group.

On the other hand, Thailand travel to Tehran to face Iran, who may opt to take it easy now that they have already qualified for the 2011 Finals in Doha, Qatar.

Indeed, the win has eased the pressure on under-fire Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi who had been under fire from Iranian fans and media after a humiliating loss to Jordan in November.

According to a Reuters report, Iranian fans at the National Stadium were even handing out posters of the coach with his face crossed out before kick-off.

But all was forgiven after 12 minutes, thanks to Iran’s Hadi Aghily and Mehrzad Madanchi.

Aghily scored a controversial penalty in the 10th minute after defender Precious Emuejeraye was judged  by the referee to have tripped an Iranian player in the box.

Minutes later,  Madanchi made it 2-0 after Mustafic Fahrudin misplaced a pass on the edge of the box, allowing the Al-Ahli midfielder slot the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Hassan Sunny.

To Singapore’s credit, the Lions, who had looked out of their depth at that point, had enough spirit and presence of mind to make a feisty comeback.

And they were eventually rewarded for their efforts when skipper Noh Alam Shah scored with a superb diving header.

Buoyed by the goal, Raddy Avramovic’s men went on to enjoy the best of the first period before the half time whistle sounded.

And Singapore came agonisingly close to equalising just after the break.

Shaiful Esah’s inswinging corner was flicked on by Baihakki Khaizan’s head. The ball sailed over the Iranian defence before Khairul Amri met it with a wonderful diving header.

Alas, although the ball beat the Iranian goalkeeper, it didn’t find the net. Instead, it struck the crossbar and was then cleared to safety by the Iranians.

The Lions’ luck ran out after that.

In pushing forward, Singapore, who also sent substitute striker Indra Sahdan  on to combine with Khairul and Alam Shah upfront, left themselves exposed at the back

And  Iran eventually struck on the break to seal the win, creating  a brilliant three-man move that culminated in a cheeky lob by veteran defender Rahman Rezaei over the powerless Hassan Sunny.

From there Iran were comfortable in their lead and went on to qualify for the Finals.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

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