TEHRAN // The UAE tonight completed the final round of Asian qualifying for the World Cup finals the same way they started - a defeat. This 1-0 loss meant they finished bottom of Group 2 with just one point from eight games. It was Dominque Bathenay's last game in charge, as the Frenchman's contract as head coach has not been renewed.
Ali Karami, ignored for most of the qualifying campaign by previous coach Ali Daei, kept Iran's hopes of reaching the finals in South Africa alive with a magical strike. The hosts need to beat South Korea in Seoul next Wednesday to book the second direct qualifying from the group or enter the play-off round by finishing third. The chances are still slim, but there was no stopping the Iranian fans as they celebrated, putting aside political differences.
The match was used to canvas support by camapigners for rival candidates in Friday's presidential elections, saw plenty of sloganeering before kick-off. It was an intimidating atmosphere and unsettled the visitors. The UAE keeper Majed Nasser was brought into action just five seconds into the game as Karimi crossed the ball and Vahid Hashemian chested it down before unleashing a stinging volley. The Whites did get used to the noise. They shut out the taunts and whistles to force a couple of corners and create chances, with Amir Mubarak coming close in the 40th minute after good possession-play on the right.
The Iranians, lacking rhythm in the first session, came back a much more intent side after the break with the magical Karimi finding his tempo. The former Bayern Munich player made a searing run down the left in the 50th minute and crossed for substitute Khalatbari Limaki to let loose a ferocious header. Nasser, however, was brilliant as he dived low to his right to stop the ball. But Nasser could do little in the 53rd minute as Karimi made a superb run into the box, turned past Mohammed Qassim and volleyed to the far corner, wrong-footing the keeper.