Iran rides home on Azmoun brace to almost assure Round of 16 spot

Abu Dhabi: The Islamic Republic of Iran all but assured themselves of a spot in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Round of 16 on Saturday, as an ultimately convincing 2-0 win over Vietnam also saw them underline their position at the top of Group D.
At a wonderfully atmospheric Al Nahyan Stadium, two goals from Sardar Azmoun ensured the Iranians made it six points from six — an impressive start to a campaign which will see the three-time champions of Asia assured of qualification should Yemen draw or lose when they play Iraq in the group’s later game.
With one round of matches still to come, Vietnam must now beat Yemen to stand any chance of sealing their place in the knockout phase as one of the best third-place finishers.
Fresh from a 5-0 defeat of Yemen, Iran enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the opening moments and it was they who spurned the first genuine opportunity, Vahid Amiri somehow failing to apply a finishing touch at the far post following captain Ashkan Dejagah’s 11th minute corner.
Vietnam goalkeeper Dang Van Lâm then denied Saman Ghoddos with a sprawling save, before the custodian produced another fine stop to repel a fierce Azmoun drive shortly before the half-hour mark.
With Iran on top and Vietnam unable to launch a cohesive attack of their own, the almost inevitable breakthrough came on 38 minutes, Azmoun rising highest to head home a pinpoint Ghoddos cross and send his side into the half-time break holding a crucial, if slender, lead.
Despite their first half woes, Vietnam began the second period brightly, and they could — very possibly should — have drawn level in the 52nd minute when substitute Nguyen Van Toan’s pass found Nguyen Cong Phuong, whose shot from 12 yards was parried to safety by the advancing Alireza Beiranvand.
Moments later, the irrepressible Azmoun forced Van Lam into another fine save only to see Mehdi Taremi lash the subsequent rebound wide of the target when well placed.
Iran, clearly intent on scoring a second, continued to press, and their patience was duly rewarded on 68 minutes, Azmoun neatly gathering a Mahdi Torabi pass and firing past Van Lam to extend his side’s advantage and register his third goal of the tournament.
Nguyen Quang Hai curled a late effort narrowly off target, but it mattered little to Iran as they held on to register a record ninth successive AFC Asian Cup group stage victory to further reinforce their title credentials. Iran are set to complete their group stage fixtures against Iraq next Wednesday in Dubai, with Vietnam scheduled to face Yemen in Al Ain on the same day.