SYDNEY — Sardar Azmoun scored in the second half to lift Iran to a 1-0 win over Qatar in Group C and send the three-time Asian Cup champions through to the quarterfinals.
Iran, the top-ranked team in the tournament, had to be patient against a well-organized Qatari defense, before Sardar broke the deadlock early in the second half after turning his defender and poking the ball past Qatari goalkeeper Qasem Burhan.
Iran has six points and is second behind UAE, which earlier Thursday beat Bahrain 2-1, on goal difference in Group C, with Qatar and Bahrain eliminated after losing both of their pool games.
Iran and UAE will meet on Monday in Melbourne, where top spot in the group will be at stake. Qatar plays Bahrain in Sydney.
This was only the second Asian Cup finals meeting between these two nations, since Iran's 2-0 win in 1988, and despite the tight margin of the final score, Iran was never troubled by the 2014 Gulf Cup champions.
Iran coach Carlos Quieroz opted to start with Sardar, ahead of the more experienced Reza Ghoochannejhad, as Iran's only change from Sunday's 2-0 win over Bahrain.
It was Sardar who had Iran's first chance when he rose highest to head a Mehrdad Pooladi cross on target in the third minute.
That proved to be Iran's only shot on target until late in the first-half when captain Javad Nekounam's headed shot was cleared off the line by Ahmed Mohamed with Qasem beaten.
Former Fulham player Ashkan Dejagah fired a volley wide from a tight angle in the closing stages of the half as Qatar's defensive setup frustrated the Group C favorites.
Iran started the second half strongly, looking for the breakthrough goal, and Sardar almost delivered in the first minute of the second half but his weak shot from Dejagah's corner went narrowly wide.
Then Masoud Shojaei picked up an errant Qatari pass in midfield and bore down on goal, only for Almadhi Ali Mukthtar to trip the midfielder, picking up a yellow card in the process. Nekounam's subsequent freekick sailed over the bar.
The breakthrough finally came in the 52nd minute after Dejagah played a low cross for Sardar, who turned past defender Almadhi before poking the ball past Qasem's outstretched leg and into the right corner of the goal.
Sardar ran to the corner flag in celebration as the strong Iranian support among the crowd of 22,672 erupted with joy.
Only minutes later Sardar appeared to injure his right ankle chasing a ball and was stretchered from the field to be replaced by Reza Ghoochannejhad.
Reza, though, resumed where Sardar had left off and fired wide from just outside the box in the 66th minute from another Dejagah cross before firing a firm shot straight at Qasem moments after.
Qatar coach Djamal Belmadi brought star player Khlafan Ibrahim off the bench to try and turn the game but Iran's well-marshalled defense stifled the Qatari attackers to extend its record of just one loss in its past 16 Asian Cup finals games.
Qatar's last chance for an equalizer to keep its tournament alive fell to Meshaal Abdulla in injury time but the substitute striker was called offside as his header hit the post.
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