Sardar Azmoun and Ehsan Hajsafi scored in the first half before Ali Qolizadeh added a third late on as Iran beat Syria 3-0 at the World Cup Asian qualifiers in Amman, Jordan, on Tuesday.
The result means a victory over Iraq at home on January 27 will be enough for Dragan Skocic’s men to clinch a spot at next year’s showdown in Qatar with three games to spare in Group A of the qualifiers.
Iran leads the group with 16 points – two clear of South Korea and 10 above the third-placed UAE – with the top two handed automatic qualification for the finals.
Persepolis midfielder Vahid Amiri found Azmoun behind the Syrian backline with a long ball from the middle of the pitch in the 33rd minute before Zenit St. Petersburg striker kept his composure to slot home through Syrian keeper Khaled Haj Othman’s legs for his 39th international goal, which saw him move alongside ex-midfielder Javad Nekounam as the joint third all-time top scorers in the Iranian outfit – trailing Ali Daei and Karim Baqeri.
Amiri was again at the center of the action for Iran’s second, as his cross from the left was blocked by Omar al-Soma in the box, and Chinese ref Ma Ning decided after a VAR review that the Syrian talisman had handled the ball.
Iranian skipper Hajsafi, on his return to the starting lineup, converted from the spot three minutes before the interval.
Iran dominated the second half and had the chance to seal the victory on multiple occasions, but it was Qolizadeh who put the icing on the cake on an emphatic performance with one minute left from normal time.
The Charleroi winger beat the offside trap on the left and danced his way through the Syrian defense before his cool left-footed touch found the bottom-right corner.
“It was a very important game for us, and before we reached this stage we knew we had to show our quality to be able to handle this match. Winning these two games against Lebanon and Syria showed our character,” said Skocic’s assistant Marijo Tot, who filled in on the bench for the suspended Croatian, after the game.
It was a 12th victory in 13 for Skocic and his staff – with the other game ending in a draw against South Korea in October – since they took over in February 2020.
“Working with players like those with extraordinary footballing ability, character and commitment makes your job as a coach easier,” Tot added.
“The boys are playing with passion and enthusiasm in every game. I hope we can continue the same way to secure qualification to the World Cup.”
Elsewhere in the group, South Korea beat Iraq 3-0 in Doha, Qatar, while the United Arab Emirates walked away with a 1-0 victory over Lebanon in Saida.
In Group B, Saudi Arabia edged past Vietnam by a single goal in Hanoi to stay atop the group while Australia’s hopes of an automatic progress suffered a major blow after a 1-1 draw against China in Sharjah, the UAE.
Japan wrestled to a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Branko Ivankovic’s Oman in Muscat to overtake the Socceroos for the second place in the group.