Iran and Turkmenistan emerged triumphant in Friday's qualifying matches of the 13th Asian Cup against Lebanon and Syria, IRNA reported from Tehran.
Iran sent the Lebanese packing with a 1-0 defeat in their second-leg game in the 100,000-seater Azadi Stadium, 10 km west of Tehran.
Veteran skipper Ali Daei headed home a well-flighted cross from left winger Alireza Vahedi-Nikbakht in the 22nd minute, helping his side Iran take over once Group D leader Jordan on goal difference.
The host came close to the second in the stoppage time of the first half as in-form Nikbakht outjumped the Lebanese defender in the six-yard area to hit midfielder Hamed Kavianpour's diagonal cross against the near post.
Iran failed to widen the gap as Daei squandered scoring opportunities.
He sent out a superb pass from substitute Ali Samereh in the 65th minute, headed a Nikbakht cross against the back side of Lebanon's net four minutes later, side-footed a rebound from close range off the woodwork on 73 minutes, and headed a delightful cross from Samereh wide above the crossbar 14 minutes from the normal time.
Midfielder Iman Mob'ali cupped his face in his hands in the 73rd minute when his curling free-kick was bounced back by the post. Croat manager Branko Ivankovic and players in the dugout blamed jinx when the diving Samereh's header shaved the crossbar in the 84th minute.
In Aleppo, visitor Turkmenistan and Syria fought to a 1-1 draw in a Group G qualifier.
Anas Sari put the host ahead in the 10th minute and Didarklych Urazov leveled the match six minutes later.
Turkmenistan joined host China and defending champion Japan, which have automatically booked berths in 2004 finals while Uzbekistan, Thailand, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Jordan, Iran, Oman, South Korea, Iraq, Bahrain, and the UAE have also qualified.
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