Iran outmuscle angry North Koreans
30 March 2005
Iran overpowered Korea DPR 2-0 in Pyongyang on Wednesday in an Asian FIFA World Cup qualifying match in which the home team and crowd of 70,000 at Kim Il-Sung stadium reacted furiously to the loss.
A first-half goal credited to Mehdi Mahdavikia but which appeared to take a deflection off a home defender gave Iran early breathing space in a very tight start to the game.
In the second half, Javad Nekounam capitalised on some brilliant build-up work by Ali Karimi and Vahid Hashemian to score from close range in the 79th minute.
The North Koreans, frustrated all game by what they viewed as decisions going against them, reacted angrily to not getting a handball verdict in the penalty box in the dying minutes and converged en masse on referee Mohammed Kousa.
The match was held up for more than five minutes as Kousa retreated from the angry pack of North Korean players and bottles from the crowd were thrown onto the athletics track surrounding the pitch.
Match officials were forced onto the pitch to help Kousa, who finally restored order and handed a red card to North Korean defender Nam Song-Chol.
After the final whistle, Kousa and his two assistant referees were left standing on the pitch for more than 20 minutes as more bottles, some chairs and other objects were thrown from the crowd.
Iran have now reached the halfway mark of the qualifying round on seven points and in prime position for a World Cup finals berth after a 2-1 home win against Japan last week and a goalless away draw with Bahrain in February.
Korea DPR languish at the bottom of Group B with no points after three consecutive losses. The top two teams in Group B gain direct entry into the World Cup finals in Germany next year.
The third-place finishers in the two Asian groups will play off against each other, with the winners facing the fourth-placed team in the North and Central American and Caribbean Zone.
Iran went into the game without inspirational captain Ali Daei, who travelled with the team but did not play after injuring his hamstring in the Japan match.
However, Iran have a depth in attack that is the envy of the rest of Asia, with 2004 Asian Player of the Year Karimi, Nekounam and Hamburg's Mahdavikia leading the charge on Wednesday
Edited on, March 31, 2005, 8:03 AM GMT, by Shehwar.