Ireland pip Iran to qualify

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> The Republic of Ireland becomes the 31st team to qualify for the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan and S Korea after completing a 2-1 aggregate victory over Iran.

Updated: February 25, 2007 08:37 IST
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The Republic of Ireland became the 31st team to qualify for the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea after completing a 2-1 aggregate victory over Iran at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on Wednesday. 120,000 spectators, 119,000 of them partisan locals, packed the terraces as the Irish attempted to defend their two-goal lead from the first leg of the World Cup play-off qualifier at Lansdowne Road, Dublin last Saturday. It was a crucial world cup play off for Iran and Ireland and the first opportunity arrived for Iran on the half-hour mark as Mehdi Mahdivikia's cross from the right flank found Ali Daei's head. But he headed over the crossbar from ten yards out. Three minutes later, Iran got yet another chance. Ali Karimi tried to take advantage of a hesitating Irish defence but unfortunately his header went wide. Iran seemed to be on a missing spree. In the 52nd minute, Karim Bagheri blasted wide from a great position with Given rooted to the spot. Iran wasn't the only one to lose out on chances. Two minutes later, Robbie Keane slipped the ball behind the Iranian defence to David Connolly who shot wide into the side-netting. The Irish were just seconds from the final whistle when Yahya Golmohammadi rose highest to head home Mahdavikia's free-kick in injury time but it was too little, too late. The goal was of no consolation to Iran who lost out on a 2-1 aggregate to Ireland. Ireland will be playing in their third World Cup after 1990 and 1994. Iran qualified for the 1998 finals in a playoff against Australia after coming back from 2-0 down in the second leg in Melbourne. Iran's Golmohammadi left the pitch in tears while the Irish manager was swamped by the media.

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