Iran beat Qatar 3-1 WC qualifier

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Iranian sweeper Alireza Vahedi Nikbakht scored in the sixth minute on Wednesday as Iran dominated Qatar 3-1 in a World Cup qualifier.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:05 IST
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Despite failing to reach the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Iran are one of Asia's strongest teams and a side to be reckoned with in the qualifying competition for Germany 2006. Under Croat coach Branco Ivancovic the team got off to a perfect start on Wednesday in Tehran against Philippe Troussier's Qatar. With a 'played six won four' record Iran were favourites and despite playing in an empty stadium at home - punishment for an ugly fan incident during a match against North Korea in November - they were soon ahead with their first goal in the sixth minute. Alireza Vahedi Nikbakht's long shot beating goalkeeper Almeahari for the opening goal. Iran's aggressive attacking play kept Qatar off-balance for most of the rest of the match - a game that saw only two shots at goal from the Qataris. Iran scored again in the 44th minute with a close-range strike from Mahdavi Kia. Captain Ali Daei netted the third goal - a penalty in the 65th - after Ali "the Wizard of Tehran" Karimi (8) was deemed to have been fouled in the box by Qatar's Shamimari (5). Qatar's lone goal came from the penalty spot in the 74th minute from the boot of Rasdul. The Asian Football Confederation ordered Iran to play the match in an empty 100,000-seat Azadi Stadium in punishment after a fan threw a firecracker onto the field during an Asia Cup match with North Korea in November 2003. With this opening game victory under their belts, Iran now move on to face Jordan and Laos in their next two Asian zone preliminary round qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Coach Branco Ivancovic, who led the side to the gold medal at the Asian Games in 2002, is looking to build a team which includes some younger players for the qualifiers. Joining such experienced stalwarts as Hamburg midfielder Mahdavikia and Ali Karimi, talented youngsters such as the 17-year-old right-back Hossein Kaabi could make a difference for the Croat. (AP)

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