By Kambakhsh Khalaji
Tehran, Feb 9, IRNA -- Iran breathed a sigh of relief as its final round 2006 World Cup qualifier against Bahrain ended in a goalless draw in Manama Wednesday.
Plucky Bahrain outshone the visitors' stars in an uneventful, dull Group B first-leg match in National Stadium of the capital city.
Iran was the winner on paper as it had called up big names like 2004 Asian Player of the Year, Ali Karimi, Bayern Munich striker Vahid Hashemian, Hamburg left winger Mehdi Mahdavikia, Kaiserslautern midfielder Fereydoun Zandi, Bochum midfielder Moharram Navidkia, defender of Italy's Serie A side Messina, Rahman Rezaei, world's best scorer Ali Daei, and a handful of top players in the dugout.
Bahrain had much better scoring opportunities particularly after the interval.
Iran owes the single point to keeper Ebrahim Mirazpour, who spectacularly palmed away an Abdullah Marzouki dangerous header on 59 minutes.
Bahrain surprisingly thrashed Iran 3-0 in Manama in 2001, denying Iran a berth in the finals of 2002 Japan and South Korea World Cup as it was beaten by Ireland 2-1 on aggregate in the two-legged playoffs.
JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA WIN
Earlier in the day, the 2002 World Cup co-hosts, Japan and South Korea, gained perfect points.
Japan survived a major scare in a 2-1 win over bitter visitor North Korea in the first match of Group B in Saitama.
Substitute Masashi Oguro grabbed the winner following a blunder by North Korea goalie Sim Sung-chol.
South Korea, the 2002 World Cup semifinalist, defeated Kuwait 2-0 in Seoul.
Striker Lee Dong-gook and midfielder Lee Young-pyo handed South Korea top of the Group A after Uzbekistan held Saudi Arabia to a 1-1 tie in Tashkent.
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