TEHERAN • Iran celebrated on Monday as the country's national football team qualified for next year's World Cup Finals by beating Uzbekistan 2-0, with goals from Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi.
Azmoun's goal midway through the first half at the Azadi Stadium in Teheran put them on track to qualify for a place in Russia, before Taremi added a second two minutes from time as Iran reached back-to-back World Cup tournaments for the first time.
The three-time Asian champions, who also missed a penalty after the break, became the second nation after five-time world champions Brazil to qualify for the Finals by securing a fifth World Cup appearance at the 32-team tournament.
Iran have played in the World Cup Finals in 1978, 1998, 2006 and 2014 - while Uzbekistan are still seeking their first-ever qualification.
Thousands of Iranians spilled onto the streets after the match with impromptu street parties in Teheran and across the country as people danced, waved flags and honked car horns.
"People are shouting, 'Iran, Iran'. It is like a carnival. We are so happy and proud of our team," said Iran fan Reza Ghanbari in Teheran's Tajrish Square.
The win means Iran, led by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, will finish among the top-two spots in Group A of Asia's final round of qualifying.
It was their sixth win from eight matches, taking them to a table-topping 20 points.
The top two teams in each of Asia's two qualifying groups advance automatically to the Finals, while the teams in third place go through a series of play-offs.
Uzbekistan are in third place in Group A with 12 points. While they are not yet out of contention for an automatic place, they will have to win their remaining two matches and hope other results go in their way.
In other games, midfielder Mahdi Kamil's late equaliser jolted Japan's World Cup qualifying bid as they were held to an unexpected 1-1 draw with Iraq yesterday.
A 1-1 draw with Thailand left the United Arab Emirates' World Cup bid hanging by a thread.
Failure to beat the bottom-placed Thails - after their 3-1 victory at home in October - is a blow for the UAE, a rising star of Asian football and host of the next Asian Cup in 2019.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE