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Iran close in on World Cup as Qatar look doomed

Doha (AFP) – Iran took a major step towards making the 2018 World Cup finals winning 1-0 in Doha on Thursday, a result which virtually ends Qatar’s hopes of reaching Russia.

A cool Mehdi Taremi finish in the 51st minute after breaking clear of the Qatar defence was the difference between the two sides and leaves Iran four points clear at the top of Group A with just four games to play.

For Qatar, the defeat, after other results on Thursday, means they are now bottom of the group, six points off the automatic qualification spots.

The result is a huge blow to their World Cup ambitions and means Qatar has little hope now of reaching a finals before they host the tournament in 2022.

Organisers of the 2022 World Cup had made it very clear their desire to reach Russia and had even replaced the national team coach following a poor start in the latest round of qualifiers.

Taremi’s goal came during a tight, sometimes bad-tempered encounter with neither team carving many clear-cut chances.

The ill-feeling carried on after the match with the coaching staff of both sides coming together and arguing on the touchline as the Iranian players celebrated their victory. 

Iran’s coach Carlos Queiroz then blew a kiss and waved to home supporters as he was booed off by some Qatari fans.

The bad-tempered end came after a match which had long threatened to remain goalless.

Early on Ansari Fard and FC Rostov’s Sarda Azmoun tested out Yasir in Qatar’s goal, but no team really looked like breaking the deadlock.

The match soon settled into a cagey battle with both teams unwilling to take many risks, aware of what was at stake.

Off the pitch coaches Jorge Fossati and Queiroz continued their argument which had begun before the match, in a spat over the number of foreign-born players used by Qatar.

The home side pressed early in the second half, but after being picked off by Taremi, rarely threatened a goal, though had a strong shout for a penalty in the 68th minute when young star Akram Afif appeared to be tripped in the penalty area.

It was Iran who went closest to scoring again and should have doubled the lead when skipper Safi was clean through on goal but shot tamely.

A crowd of more than 10,000 watched on, including former Barcelona star, Xavi Hernandez who now plays in Qatar.

Iran now play China at home on March 28, with Qatar playing the same day in Uzbekistan.

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