Iran coach sees hope despite Pyongyang stalemate

June 7th, 2009 - 6:10 pm ICT by IANS  

By Bill Smith
Pyongyang, June 7 (DPA) New Iranian coach Afshin Ghotbi remained upbeat after his team was held to a 0-0 draw with North Korea in a match Saturday that many had deemed a must-win fixture for his underperforming team.

“The match was very important for both teams so there was clearly a lot of stress for both the North Korean and the Iran team,” Ghotbi told reporters after the match.

“The first half, I think, the Iran team was fantastic, organised. We controlled the match, gave no opportunities and I thought that we had three or four clear chances to score,” he said.

“And I think in international football you have to at least finish one of those chances,” Ghotbi said.

Masoud Shojai hit a post in the fourth minute from a slick break by Iran and several other chances followed, but the North Koreans, with goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk looking confident, held out until half time.

Cheered on by a passionate crowd of 30,000 in Pyongyang’s Yanggakdo Stadium, the North Koreans had several good attacks in the second half, but they had to wait until added time for their best clear-cut chance, a header over the bar by An Yong Hak.

Ghotbi said it would be difficult for any team to win in Pyongyang.

“This is the best North Korean team in a long time, a very organised, very hard-working team, and they have the strikers that are high class for Asian standards,” he said.

“I think it’s a point that both teams can use in the future,” Ghotbi said of the result.

Iran now have seven points, with two games to play in their second-round Asian qualifying Group B.

They lie in fourth place in the group, behind South Korea, Saudi Arabia and North Korea.

But although Iran face an “uphill battle” to qualify, they could still snatch a play-off place if they win their final two games, Ghotbi said.

He said Iran must first win their next game at home to the United Arab Emirates, who prop up the five-nation group and are already eliminated.

“So we must win so we can at least give ourselves a chance in Seoul to go the World Cup,” Ghotbi said of the final two games against UAE and South Korea.

North Korea, who have played one game more than Iran, are on 11 points. Their final qualifying game is away to Saudi Arabia.

North Korean coach Kim Jong Hun agreed that it was still possible for Iran to qualify for next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa, but admitted that his own team would probably need to beat Saudi Arabia to be sure of going to South Africa.

“If we beat them it’s okay, but if we lose we’ll have to wait and see the results of the other matches,” Kim told reporters.

Related Stories

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Sports |