|Iran: Comeback kings [AFP]|
China and Iran played out a 2-2 draw in a Group C match of contrasting halves at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, after the East Asian side had been ahead 2-0 until the 45th minute.
An early goal to China midfielder Jiayi Shao in the sixth minute was doubled by a Jianqing Mao strike in the 33rd minute, only for Iran midfielder Ferydoon Zandi to get his side back in the match with an excellent free-kick seconds before the break.
Iran then looked the better side in the second half, and Osasuna midfielder Javad Nekounam reaped the rewards with a 74th minute header to make the scores level.
China looked impressive in the first half, but seemed to wilt in the second as their coach Guanghu Zhu took a more defensive approach, trying unsuccessfully to protect his lead.
“No player or coach will say ‘we will defend and not attack’,” Zhu said at the post-match press conference in reference to his substitutions of attacking trio Dong Wang (61st minute), Mao (68th), and Peng Han (79th).
“Iran just gave us more pressure in the second half.”
On the other hand, Iran were well off the pace in the first 45 minutes and were lucky not to be behind by more as their opponents sent wave after wave of attack, but stormed home in the second half just as they had done in their opening match against Uzbekistan.
“In the first quarter of the match we played very badly,” Amir Ghalenoei, Iran coach, said.
“We mentioned China’s areas of strength in our technical meeting, and that we should be careful in the first 15 minutes, but that’s how and when they scored.
|Iran’s Vahid Hashemian Korbekandi (r) plows through China’s Sun Jihai (c) and Zhang
“In the second half we played well as we started to concentrate,” Ghalenoei added.
“It is a problem that our form fluctuates, goes up and down. We need to address this problem.”
Heavy rain had fallen in Kuala Lumpur throughout the day, but the light shower that persisted during the team warm-ups had stopped by kick-off, leaving playing conditions at 27 degrees Celsius and 89 per cent humidity.
Plenty of noise once again emanated from the cauldron-like arena, but supporter numbers were limited to those who had travelled from the Middle East or over the South China Sea.
China striker Han went close with the match only 15 seconds old when his audacious aerial overhead kick went looping just wide of the Iran goal, before Nekounam then almost put the ball through his own net in the third minute when trying to clear a cross inside the box.
It was all China in the opening minutes, and Nekounam received the first yellow card from Saudi Arabian referee Khalil Ibrahim Al Ghamdi in the sixth minute for a lunge from behind on Han.
From the ensuing free kick, Shao hit a stunning left-footer from 22 metres that diving Iran keeper Hassan Rodbarian could only get his hand to, with the ball deflecting into the top left corner of the net.
Then in the 33rd minute China went two goals up when Mao was left unmarked from Zhi Zheng’s cross, with the Shanghai Shenhua striker beating an outstretched Rodbarian, sneaking his well-hit shot inside the left post.
Lei Lei Li had to make his first real save shortly after when Mehdi Mahdavikia whipped in a pin-point cross to see striker Vahid Hashemian hit a glancing header which the China keeper parried away.
Zandi the hero
But in the final minute of first half regulation time, Weifeng Li gave away a free kick before German-born Zandi smashed his own powerful left-foot shot into the top-right corner with Lei Lei Li flinging himself to no avail.
Iran looked sharper at the beginning of the second period, with halftime substitutions Iman Mobali and Javad Kazemeyan, goal scorer against Uzbekistan, adding some life to the forward line.
From the hour mark, Iran began to finish stronger as China sat back and tried to absorb the pressure, and it was only a matter of time before the equaliser came.
With 16 minutes remaining, Nekounam, the eventual player of the match, scored as he leapt high to meet a cross from the right with a well placed header to earn his side a point.
Iran now play joint-hosts Malaysia in their final first round match on July 18 with a win looking likely for Team Meli, while China and Uzbekistan face off on the same day for a place in the quarter-finals.