While Iran were about to play just their third from a total of six qualifiers, it was already clear that this group saw them battle it out with China for that coveted first spot which would take the winners through to the next stage of the qualification. Both had had routine away wins against the two bottom teams of the group, and both had scored five times during that process. The Chinese had in addition overcome Bangladesh, today’s opponents for Team Melli, by a 2-0 scoreline at home, and so were two points ahead of Iran. This made victory a necessity for the Iranians in order to still have a say regarding that top spot.
The table pre-match read thus:
With head coach Parviz Dehdari still refusing to return from his sickleave, Reza Vatankhah remained in temporary charge following on from the two away qualification wins the previous month. Perhaps one had been expecting a few changes in the squad for this must-win home tie against one of the two group minnows?
13 players in total had been in action during the two away games in Thailand and in Bangladesh. One who had not featured, and who probably wouldn’t play any part during the qualification at all, was 27 year old ace striker Farshad Pious. He was playing his club football in Qatar. They would have to make do with those which were available.
24 year old striker Karim Bavi of Tehran club Shahin had scored in both qualifiers so far. He seemed a big player along with midfield star and team captain Sirous Ghayeghran and strong central defender Morteza Fonounizadeh. Another vital member of the select was left-back Mojtaba Moharrami, who would go on and be voted the best left-sided defender in Asia the following year.
Coming into this their final qualifier, Bangladesh had probably coped in line with what had been expected of them beforehand, at least from an objective point of view. They had kept the scoreline down in those games which they’d lost, and though losing away to Thailand in their opening fixture had probably been something of a disappointment, they would avenge that defeat in the home leg, ensuring that they even had a superior goaldifference over the two legs by winning 3-1. This win had come about nine days earlier, so perhaps were they riding on a bit of a high coming into this game.
There had been fine consistency in Bangladesh’ team selections throughout their short, hectic qualification campaign. They had made use of a total of 16 players or thereabouts. Some players are difficult to pinpoint exactly, as different sources operate with different names. We can safely say that something’s probably ‘got lost in transliteration’. There is a Dastagir Nira and seemingly also a Hossein Dastgir, and whether this refers to one or two players remains unclear (edit: Our alert reader Lucas informed us that this is in fact one and the same player: Neera Hossain Dastigir).
The match officials had come from Qatar, with Hassan Abdullah Al-Mullah taking charge of the proceedings.
This was to be the fifth ever meeting between this pair of nations. They had three weeks earlier met in Dhaka, where today’s hosts had triumphed by 2-1, thus condemning the Bangladeshis to their third defeat from three qualifiers. At the same time, Iran’s second win from two made sure they went to the top of the charts, as China had only featured once at that stage.
Previous to this year’s qualification, the two countries had also crossed paths in the 1986 Asian Games football tournament’s group stage, where Iran had won 4-0 in South Korea. A 1984 Asian Championships qualifier, on neutral ground in Jakarta, Indonesia, had seen Iran triumph by a 5-0 scoreline, while Team Melli, en route to a third place finish at the 1980 Asian Cup, held in Kuwait, had trounced Bangladesh 7-0 in a group stage fixture.
Tehran’s Azadi (meaning ‘freedom’) Stadium is situated in the vast metropolis’ western area. It had an official capacity of around 120,000, though with Bangladesh hardly evoking the strongest emotions of rivalry, this tie would not see an attendance figure anywhere near capacity.
Azadi Stadium had been opened late in 1971, well in time to stage the football tournament in the 1974 Asian Games. Team Melli would ultimately triumph through a 1-0 win in the final against Israel (!).
The pitch looked dry and a bit patchy, and it was particularly in front of both goals, as you’d expect, where there was a lack of green.
|1 Ahmadreza Abedzadeh||22||Tam Isfahan|
|2 Javad Zarincheh||22||Esteghlal|
|3 Mojtabi Moharrami||second half||23||Persepolis|
|4 Nader Mohammedkhani||25||Persepolis|
|5 Morteza Fonounizadeh||28||Persepolis|
|7 Majeed Namjoomutlagh||sub 70′||21||Esteghlal|
|8 Sirous Ghayeghran (c)||22||Esteghlal Anzali|
|10 Karim Bavi||24||Shahin|
|11 Morteza Kermani-Moghaddam||sub 62′||23||Persepolis|
|13 Sayed Ali Eftekhari||24||Malavan Anzali (or Esteghlal Anzali)|
|19 Mohsen Garousi||20||Esteghlal|
|9 Samad Marfavi||on 62′||24||Darayi|
|14 Mohsen Ashouri||on 70′||24||Persepolis|
|1 Mohamed Mohsin|
|2 Monem Munna||first half|
|3 Kaisar Hamid (c)||Mohammedan|
|7 Satyajit Das Rupu|
|8 Syed Rumman Sabbir||first half, sub 68′|
|9 Sheikh Mohammad Aslam|
|10 Khandoker Wasim Iqbal|
|14 Montu Ahsanullah|
|15 Fakrul Kamal|
|19 Neera Hossain Dastagir|
|17 Badal Das||on 68′|
Having what must have felt disappointingly conceded a goal to invite Bangladesh into the game again in their previous fixture, Team Melli would’ve fancied their chances to improve on their goal difference this time around. With the way this group was set up, both China and Iran must have realized that goal difference could well be decisive in the end. And so, not just a win, but a handsome scoreline, too, would’ve been playing on Iran’s minds prior to kick-off here in the vast Azadi Stadium. A stadium which, as could’ve been expected beforehand, really, was just shy of half-full.
Kick-off had gone to the hosts, and was eventually performed by strikers Karim Bavi and Mohsen Garousi. They were clad in green shirts and white shorts, while the travelling band from Bangladesh were in all-white.
Alas, it is a 35 minute cut-version that our tape from the game offers, while the full 90 minutes would’ve been preferable. However, 35 minutes is miles better than just a brief goal clip. And the footage does provide hints of how the game unfolded, even if it is impossible to get a precise picture of the turn of events.
Iran were definitely lining up in a 4-3-3 formation. They had an average age of just 23,1 through their starting eleven, and the oldest player was the bearded Morteza Fonounizadeh at centre-back. He was 28. The youngest starter was 20 year old forward Garousi. Four players came from one of the two major Tehran clubs: Persepolis. With no national championships being played out for the last decade due to the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war, Persepolis were reigning (and coming) champions in the Tehran province league. Eternal rivals Esteghlal, with three players in the starting eleven, were at this point somewhat inferior.
22 year old Ahmadreza Abedzadeh was between the sticks. He had also started their two previous qualifiers, and was following in the footsteps of Ahmad Sajjadi, who had started in their January friendly against Japan.
The pair of full-backs were Javad Zarincheh along the right and the very gifted Mojtabi Moharrami down the left. With the hosts probably expected to see a lot of the ball, they would both be likely to venture forward quite a lot. In the centre of their four man defensive unit, the hosts had the two most senior members of the team in Nader Mohammadkhani and Morteza Fonounizadeh. This was precisely how they had lined up also in their two away fixtures hitherto in the qualification. Mohammadkhani did display some qualities in bringing the ball into the opposition’s territory, while Fonounizadeh appeared to be the one who most relished a direct confrontation with the opposition’s main striker Aslam.
In midfield, Iran had captain Sirous Ghayeghran working in the very centre. He had been voted into last year’s Asian Cup’s ‘all-star team’ (as the only Iranian player), and was a solid performer. He was keen to have possession, had a fine range of passes in his repertoar, and knew well how to advance with the ball at his feet. He also possessed a fine right foot for shooting, even if this particular game was not going to be one for him to remember for this particular characteristic.
Around Ghayeghran in midfield were the very lively and energetic Majeed Namjoomutlagh to his right and Sayed Ali Eftekhari in the inside left midfield role. Namjoomutlagh seemed a very creative outlet, and he was quite often seen in contact with the ball, at times looking to make use of right-sided areas. He also had a fine right foot for crossing, and would prove a very useful player in this particular fixture. Eftekhari was clearly more anonymous through these clips, and perhaps didn’t have the same freedom to express himself, with left-back Moharrami offering some attacking power along this side, to a greater extent than Zarincheh opposite.
The front three seemed to have quite defined positions for each member, with Karim Bavi working through the centre, hoping to add to his two-goal tally since the start of the qualification. He seemed quite strong in the air, and would often come in direct contact with the visitors’ pair of centre-halves. Somewhat to Bavi’s right was the lively Morteza Kermani-Moghaddam, who seemed to link up particularly well with Namjoomutlagh, while youngster Garousi was seen towards the left of the front three. Like Eftekhari behind him, Garousi also was less visible than his right-sided counterpart (Kermani-Moghaddam) in the hosts’ waves of attack.
How about the visiting select?
Basing a judgement on 35 minutes long sequences where goalscoring opportunities are obviously highlighted is both difficult and hardly a precise kind of science. And this reel provides exactly that: Plenty of action inside one particular end of the pitch, namely that of the visiting team. Even those who don’t know a lot about this vintage of Bangladeshi football would’ve guessed beforehand that they would struggle, as they hardly have a pedigree on the international football stage. Iran could easily be said to be a powerhouse on the Asian scene. True to such beliefs, they come at the visitors again and again.
Unfortunately, knowing much about this visiting team is near impossible. They’re difficult even to have each individual’s identity pinpointed, as the on-screen line-ups are littered with flaws. While researching the Iranian team was a doable achievement, it has only been possible to reveal the identity of five from Bangladesh’ starting eleven. This is because their 1989 edition contained various players who made a historical print, and several members of the team are seen as legends in their football-lore.
The quintet which we are able to reveal are: Goalkeeper Mohammed Mohsin, the pair of centre-backs, namely Monem Munna and skipper Kaisar Hamid, and also the two forwards in what certainly looks to be a 4-4-2 formation: Syed Sabbir and Mohammad Aslam, who, according to available articles, appears to be the greatest of them all. But then again goalscorers usually are being reserved the most prolific homage, in posterity as well as in real time.
Mohsin does excel; he does thwart various Iranian opportunities. He seems confident, and he is positionally aware. However, the visitors are sitting quite deep, defending their own box with several bodies, and the two central defenders do aid Mohsin in his plight quite a lot. They are good at putting their bodies in the line, and also challenge quite well physically. This particularly goes for captain Hamid. He is quite a sizeable character. Munna, his colleague, is awarded an early booking for a foul as he had been trying to put a dent in a fine run from Garousi down the Persian left hand side of attack.
Bangladesh clearly have their number 4, Harun-ur-Rashid, at right-back, while number 19, Neera Hossain Dastagir, is appearing at left-back. Furthermore, their left-sided midfield man, number 7, Satyajit Das Rupu, is quite a tricky member of their team, displaying qualities on the ball in that wide area. However, generally they are shown so sparsely in forward forays, so realizing just what the various members of the team are about is not easy.
In their engine room, number 14 Montu Ahsanullah, is without much doubt the more defensive among the pair, with number 10, Khandoker Iqbal, possibly being their go-to man. Their number 15, Fakhrul Kamal, looks to be pinned to the right hand side of their midfield, where he needs to assist his right-back behind him in plentiful situations.
Altogether, Bangladesh are set up in a 4-4-2 formation. They had been defeated only narrowly by Iran at home, and again, they prove difficult to break down, although they certainly owe a lot to the heroic performance of Mohsin between the sticks, as he produces several fine stops. One effort which he’s unable to get anywhere near smacks right off the crossbar. It is Iran’s skillful midfield man Namjoomutlagh who strikes it so crisply from the edge of the area following a lay-off that it makes for serene viewing. The ball cannons right back into play, although Eftekhari’s scrambled follow-up is well held by Mohsin. It can be confirmed to have happened on 15 minutes, since the producers had kindly displayed an old-fashioned clock only second’s prior to Namjoomutlagh’s drive.
We also have no way of knowing the time scale on the proceedings, other than what happens around the quarter of an hour mark, when a clock has been displayed on-screen. Prior to this, in one of the very first attacks shown at all, Bangladesh’ centre-half Munna is covering for his right-back, Rashid, who is slightly out of position as Iran’s Garousi is about to make it to the byline following a swift transition. Munna fouls the Iranian forward to the extent that the Qatari referee sees fit to pull out the first yellow card of the game.
Iran appear quite direct. They make use of balls up from the back, played into space down the flanks, and often it seems they’re aiming it in behind the Bangladeshi right-back, where Garousi and also inside left midfielder Eftekhari are trying to take advantage. They also display some activity down the opposite channel, where the thrifty Namjoomutlagh and forward Kermani-Moghaddam seem to have a fine understanding between one another. If they win a throw-in high up the pitch, centre-back Mohammadkhani comes up to hoist it long towards the edge of the six yard area. The two Bangladeshi centre-backs are no mugs in the air, though.
In addition to his firecracker off the crossbar, Namjoomutlagh has another attempt from just outside the area after he’s robbed the visitors’ Iqbal of possession. He takes a few steps forward before unleashing his second effort at goal, with Mohsin able to parry it away to his right, where Ahsanullah can clear it further away for a left wing corner. It is from this set-piece which Kermani-Moghaddam rises on the near post, with Mohsin caught in no-man’s land, and flicks a header just wide across goal from Namjoomutlagh’s inswinger.
In another attempt down the left, and with Bangladesh’ right-back’s positional deficiencies again taken advantage of, it is Moharrami who plays the wandering Kermani-Moghaddam in, and rather than trying to aim for one of his team mates in the centre, the forward instead opts to go for glory by shooting with the outside of his right foot. He must see it end up behind the goal frame, while the final piece of goalmouth action from the first half is when right-back Zarincheh has made it all the way to the byline, past Das Rupu, and has swung a deep cross in towards the back post. Mohsin is able to divert the ball’s path through the means of a couple of fingers, something which disrupts Bavi’s header to the extent that it ends up behind goal rather than in the back of the net.
A few sequences prior, we had seen the authoritative-looking Al-Mullah produce another yellow card, this time in the Bangladeshi number 8, which is how we can confirm him as Sabbir. Every available statistic from the game reveals that Munna and Sabbir were the two visiting players booked during the game.
There is no visual from the second half kick-off, and from the early footage after the break it would appear that the visitors had tried to address their shortcomings in the right-back position, where Rashid had been exposed a few times judging by the material which we have available to us. It does look like they have switched to five across the back, pushing Rashid into a more central position, while Ahsanullah, who seemed to work in a holding role during the first half, now looked to be the man responsible for their right-back area.
Bangladesh had not displayed anything at all as an attacking capacity, although that had hardly been expected, and particularly not with the score still locked at goalless. They had left any responsibility in creating the unexpected to the pair up front, and possibly also with Das Rupu towards the left. However, they were constantly on the back foot, and resorted to hoofs from their defenders when clearing their lines, rather than taking an extra touch to try and be composed and look for opportunities further forward.
The hosts, with plenty of attacking freedom, again seem to involve right-back Zarincheh further forward, and it is from his intiative inside the area, where he is able to make it to the byline, having outwitted Kaisar. Zarincheh’s cross is met by a downwards header from his full-back compatriot Moharrami, though whether it would’ve made it into the back of the net even if Bangladesh’ left-back Dastagir had not cleared it spectacularly near the post, remains unclear. Another foray down the right, this time with Namjoomutlagh getting a cross into the centre, is met by a header, and again off the ground, this time from Bavi. It is a comfortable catch for Mohsin, though.
Again, it should be emphasized that we only have a cut version to judge from, but during that first half footage, Namjoomutlagh sure had played an active role. This is why it would seem odd that he’s replaced with the hosts still looking for their necessary breakthrough. Iran had already replaced Kermani-Moghaddam, whom Namjoomutlagh had linked up well with on a few occasions during the opening 45 minutes, and having introduced 24 year old striker Samad Marfavi in his place earlier, it is equally old midfield man Mohsen Ashouri who steps on to the turf for Namjoomutlagh. This happens with about 20 minutes left.
Visitors exploit the counter
Bangladesh had not come anywhere near threatening the hosts’ goal, though with Iran pushing so many men forward, they always ran the risk to concede an opportunity or two for the visitors to counter. They had cleared their lines swiftly at the heart of their defence, and suddenly saw Das Rupu able to run forward inside their own half after another clearance. Looking up, he had spotted Aslam’s run ahead of him, and Das Rupu played him in with a fine pass. The striker was on his own, but he was running through the centre, nearing in on goal, until he was cynically hacked to the ground by recovering left-back Moharrami. Yellow only, as the referee must have adjudged centre-half Mohammadkhani to be in close enough proximity, thus refraining from making use of a red card.
It had been a cynical offence, let there be no doubt about it, though Iran’s full-back had deemed it necessary to stop the striker’s flight towards goal. He had got it his way, although it had resulted in a shooting opportunity some 28 yards out, straight out from goalkeeper Abedzadeh. Like the rest of the Irani team, the ‘keeper was a young man at 22, and without much work so far, he was brought into action as Aslam stepped up to hit it goalwards from his left foot. It took a tip over by the ‘keeper, although it could well be that the strike had otherwise only come off the top of the crossbar.
The on-screen clock had reappeared as Aslam was about to hit his free-kick, showing 74 minutes.
While the second substitute which had been introduced for the home side, Ashouri, appeared to have slotted directly into Namjoomutlagh’s inside right midfield position, Marfavi, who had come on a few minutes earlier was definitely working up front. So both of the two seemingly most active home players during the first half, Kermani-Moghaddam and Namjoomutlagh, were now off. In the centre of midfield, skipper Ghayeghran had tried to swing his boot at the ball a couple of times already, though neither of his efforts from distance had worried Mohsin. He’s set up again in their next venture forward, and Ghayeghran skies it from the edge of the area, clearly to the disgust of the crowd. Time seems to be running out.
They keep plugging away, the hosts, in no way are they surrendering despite the resolve shown by the gallant Bangladeshi outfit. Ghayeghran is at the centre of their next move, as he plays Garousi in towards the right in the area, in behind the defence. The Irani forward is able to strike at goal, though Mohsin has done well in coming off his line, and the ‘keeper makes a block with his leg, seeing the ball exit for a right wing corner. It is from this set-piece, though, that the deadlock will finally be broken. Substitute Ashouri swings it into the centre, and it is fellow substitute Marfavi who connects with his head to guide it expertly into the bottom left corner. Despite Kamal’s efforts on the goalline, the hosts finally have their long-awaited, invaluable goal.
Visitors’ resistance is broken
We are given another glimpse of the clock with some five minutes remaining, and it is around this time, too, that we briefly see their number 17, Badal Das, who has come on for booked forward Sabbir earlier. According to statistics, this had happened with the second half at its halfway stage. Having conceded that goal, Bangladesh will not again prove to be a threat against the Irani goal, while it must have been disappointing to concede in such fashion having bravely held out for so long.
Goal ruled out
Well aware that goal difference could ultimately play a major part in who progresses from the group, Iran press for further goals. They keep coming at the overworked Bangladeshi defence, though some of their decision-making is far from spot on. Captain Ghayeghran has attempted various shots from distance, and a further couple sees him well off target again. There’s also a spectacular effort in the centre from Bavi, who connects from Ashouri’s flighted free-kick in from the right hand channel.
The hosts think they have added a second just prior to the clock reaching 90 minutes. Another Ashouri free-kick from the right outside the area is played into the centre, although the linesman on the far side is quick to raise his flag, having spotted an offside immediately. Although Marfavi has somehow managed to prod it past goalkeeper Mohsin on the near post, it won’t count. 2-0 could’ve meant a big contribution in Iran’s fight for top spot.
There’s at least three minutes added on at the end of the game, but despite that, a second goal never materializes. Again, it is Ghayeghran who tries to find the back of the net from distance, after his initial free-kick from just outside the left of the area had been blocked. Having picked up the rebound, the home skipper brought it inside to have a pop from 16 yards, though it went just wide to the left of Mohsin’s upright. Had it crept inside, the ‘keeper would’ve been unlikely to stop it.
That’s it. Time up.
Needing first and foremost to win, but preferably also handsomely, Iran go in search of goals from the off, although they appear somewhat laboured inside the final third of the pitch, despite being direct. Their combinations usually come from enterprising midfielder Namjoomutlagh and forward Kermani-Moghaddam towards the right, though their closest effort in the first half is the former of the pair’s smacked effort off the crossbar around 15 minutes in.
Bangladesh seem to switch to five at the back from the start of the second half, very content with how the game is going. A goalless draw would be a fantastic result for them, and could they snatch anything on the break – even better. While the hosts are always on the front foot, the visitors break with a quarter of an hour left, though Aslam is brought down when about to run through. He subsequently sees his free-kick saved, and #15’s first time drive from inside the area ends up well over.
Having survived that scare, the hosts’ two substitutes combine to finally get their long-awaited goal: Ashouri’s right wing corner finds Marfavi’s forehead. The header is expertly executed. The latter also has a goal chalked off for offside.
There is no doubt that the win is merited, although it had probably far from been Iran’s finest hour and a half on a football pitch.