Sardar Azmoun and Ahmad Nourollahi scored in the stoppage time as Iran pulled off a remarkable 2-1 away victory over Lebanon in the World Cup Asian qualifiers on Thursday.
The victory left Iran in pole position to qualify for next year’s showdown in Qatar, as Dragan Skocic’s men lead Group A of the qualifiers with 13 points – two clear of South Korea and eight points above third-placed Lebanon – midway through the group fixtures.
Top two of the group, which also features Iraq, the UAE, and Syria, will progress to the World Cup finals.
Iran started the game on the front at the Saida International Stadium, dominating possession for the better part of the first period, however, it was the home side that broke the deadlock in the 37th minute.
Iranian backline and goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand were caught off guard, as they thought Abbas Asi’s long cross from the right flank would sail out of play, but the wind kept the ball in and the host’s Soony Saad controlled it with a deft touch on the sideline before his cool effort went past the Iranian keeper.
Iran desperately pushed for an equalizer in the second half with Azmoun going close to draw his team level, only to see his strike in the box pushed over by the Lebanese keeper Mostafa Matar midway through the half.
With the awful quality of the pitch hampering Iran’s buildup play, and the home side players’ time-wasting on numerous occasions frustrating Skocic’s men, a change of position by fullback Vahid Amiri to the midfield proved decisive in the closing stages.
Amiri’s deflected through pass fell into Azmoun’s way as Zenit St. Petersburg striker’s trademark finish leveled the scoreline in the 91st minute.
With the game heading for a draw, Amiri played a one-two with Ali Qolizadeh before finding Azmoun in the box, whose effort was blocked by the Lebanese defender, but Nourollahi was alert on the edge of the box, smashing home a low drive in the 95th minute to complete the comeback win for the Asian powerhouse.
Elsewhere in the group, a first-half spot-kick by Hwang Hee-chan was enough for South Korea to beat the UAE at home, while Iraq and Syria settled for a 1-1 draw in Doha, Qatar.
Next for Iran is a visit to Amman, Jordan, to take on Syria on Tuesday.