AFC - Alireza Jahanbakhsh hailed a “great job” by the Islamic Republic of Iran as the Group A winners came away from Korea Republic in their penultimate FIFA World Cup qualifier with a scoreless draw on Thursday despite playing most of the second-half with 10 men.
Having already secured their safe passage to Russia next year, Iran went into the fixture at Seoul World Cup Stadium with few worries, but a strong determination to ensure they see out the campaign unbeaten and with their perfect defensive record still intact.
The Iranians looked solid throughout, even after Saeid Ezatolahi was dismissed shortly after half-time, limiting Korea Republic to only a handful of chances in a performance that displayed all the attributes of togetherness that long-serving coach Carlos Queiroz has instilled in the squad.
“We knew they were going to start at 100 percent because they were playing at home in front of 60,000 people, so they were going to start with attacking football,” said Jahanbakhsh.
“We knew it was going to be difficult but we tried to concentrate, to stay compact and use the counter-attacks, which we did very well in the first-half.
“But at the beginning of the second-half, unfortunately, we got the red card and after it was more difficult. We had to stay more compact and close the spaces.
“There was more pressure after we went down to 10 men but fortunately we got one point and that’s all that matters right now.”
The visitors went into the game without the suspended Sardar Azmoun and chose to leave three-goal top scorer Mehdi Taremi on the bench.
Jahanbakhsh and fellow Netherlands-based teammate Reza Ghoochannejhad were the only players to start the game who had netted in the Group A campaign, with the pair scoring in a 2-0 win over Qatar back on Matchday One.
And, while chances were at a premium for Team Melli, the fighting spirit of a side determined to maintain a qualifying record that will be hard to match anywhere in world football was evident for all to see.
“One of the strongest parts of our national team is that we work together as a team in both defence and attack,” added Jahanbakhsh.
“The defensive part was perfect and we did a great job. One point in front of 60,000 people, with 10 men, was enough today. There was more pressure on them as they had to win.
“We had the goal of not conceding and we did this with great teamwork.”
Next up Iran will welcome Syria to Azadi Stadium on Tuesday in a game that has more than just their impressive record riding on it.
Syria’s 3-1 win over Qatar on Thursday moved the West Asians into third place in Group A, two points behind second-placed Korea Republic, and means they go into the clash with automatic qualification in their sights.
“The next game is Syria and they still have a chance so it’s going to be difficult because they’ll give 100 percent,” said Jahanbakhsh.
“But we’re playing at home and we always do a good job at home. We’ll do our best to try and finish without conceding a goal and get the three points in front of our fans.”