|Ansari Fard celebrates the goal that made Iran the first team into the Asian Cup quarter-finals [Reuters]
Iran qualified for the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup after a well-taken goal from Karim Ansari Fard gave them a 1-0 win over North Korea at the Qatar Sports Club stadium.
The 20-year-old flicked home the winner after 63 minutes of a largely uninspired game, riddled with mistakes from both sides, who largely cancelled each other out in a tedious midfield war of attrition.
Iran, who have now won both their matches and are seeking a first Asian Cup title since 1976, were the better team throughout but their midfield fulcrum of Javad Nekounam and Pejman Nouri rarely found the right pass.
The one occasion they did led to the only goal when Nouri crossed perfectly from the right and Ansari Fard beat his marker to guide the ball home.
Iran top the group with six points, followed by the United Arab Emirates and North Korea, who both have one point.
UAE were playing champions Iraq, who lost to Iran in their opening match, later.
Iran coach Afshin Ghoutbi, whose players have been hit by a flu bug this week, was forced to make four changes from the side that beat Iraq, but thought his team had taken the lead after 28 minutes.
Ansari Fard held off a challenge from Korean defender Ri Jun-il, and fired in a well-taken shot, but the linesman flagged for handball.
Referee Nawaf Shukralla disallowed the goal then booked Ansari Fard for protesting although TV replays failed to show any infringement.
North Korea, who drew 0-0 with United Arab Emirates in their opening match, were, as expected, largely content to defend in numbers but they had two good scoring chances.
The first came after 17 minutes when striker Jong Tae-se smacked a powerful 25-metre free-kick straight at goalkeeper Mahdi Rahmati who could only parry the shot although the follow-up effort was hit high over the bar.
The second should have made it 1-1 in stoppage time at the end of the game when Hong Yong-jo hit the top of the bar as he turned unchallenged 10 yards out.
Most of the entertainment coming from North Korea's camp was from about 200 fans, almost all of whom were identically dressed in white shirts and ties.
But even their choreographed moves and chants dried up as the match failed to produce any real entertainment apart from the goal.