People from all walks of life in large and small Iranian cities joyfully celebrated on Monday night IRI National Football Teams 1-0 victory over Bahrain in Asian Zone Group B qualifier at Tehran's Azadi Stadium that granted Iran a ticket to 2006 World Cup in Germany, IRNA reported.
The star-studded Iran heaped great pressure on the visitors' woodwork as the South Korean referee Kwong Jong Chul kicked off the eagerly awaited game.
Bahrain, which conceded four corners in just three minutes, was too lucky to fall behind as the Player of the Match Mohammad Nosrati rattled the far post and the Arab Camp with an angled header in the third minute.
Playing in the presence of IRI President Seyed Mohammad Khatami, first ever before an Iranian head of state since 1979 Islamic Revolution, the home team sent over 85,000 flag-weaving fans and millions of Iranian enthusiasts at TV sets nationwide and abroad into ecstasy on 48th minute.
That was when the advancing defender Nosrati headed a Kaiserslautern midfielder Fereydoun Zandi curling set piece past the iving Bahraini keeper Ali Hasan al-Husain.
The fans poured onto the pitch after the Korean ref blew in his whistle to mark the qualifier's end, and the football-crazy Iranians to the streets countrywide, celebrating their team's entry to the world's most prestigious sports event.
Iran is the second team that clinched a World Cup spot as the group B Japan beat North Korea 2-0 in an empty stadium in Thailand earlier in the day, squeezing into the finals as the first team of all zones.
The home victory was meanwhile a late revenge as Bahrain had left a bitter taste on Iranians with a stunning 3-1 win in Manama four years ago, which heaped the Saudi Kingdom side deny Iran a berth in 2002 World Cup finals co-hosted by Japan and South Korea.
Iran thus on Monday evening also extended its leadership in Group B with 13 points, one above Japan, while Bahrain has sacked only four points out of five games and North Korea remains pointless at group's bottom.
Iran had previously qualified for the World Cup finals once in 1978 and another time in 1998.
Bahrain will finish third in the group and fight a two-leg playoff with the third-placed team of Group A.
Iran, too, would meet Nippon in Tokyo on August 17th, on same date that Bahrain would entertain North Korea in home game in Manama.
The winner of the playoff takes on the fourth-placed team's status in the CONCACAF Zone for a place at the World Cup finals.
The top two teams from the two Asian groups qualify automatically.
"We will go to the World Cup to achieve something there, not only to participate," Iran's elated Croatian coach Branko Ivankovic told reporters.
"Our successful games in our group show that we are going to be an upsetting team there. Have you seen how ambitious our players are? With their technique and their power, they are able to turn against all challengers."
"I can't describe how happy I am. I thank deeply and earnestly all the Iranian nation for their support. The players were heroic," he said.
Iran needed just a draw against the visitors to qualify, but managed to go one better by securing a tough win against the equally determined visitors.
Iran's Mehdi Mahdavikia skimmed the post in the 56th minute and found the goalkeeper at close range in the 70th. But much of the rest of the game was anecdotal -- as Iran firmed up their defence and waited for the final whistle.
"I swear to God that last night I dreamed of this goal, and after my first shot hit the post I was afraid God did not like me," Nosrati said after the match. "But when I scored, my dream came true." "This is one of the most beautiful days of my life, because we have made 70 million people happy," said veteran captain Ali Daei.
"We have a lot of plans to prepare our game for the World Cup." The football mad Islamic republic has been behind the national squad, with President Mohammad Khatami watching the match and, according to a football federation official, offering each of the squad an Iranian-made saloon car --Samand -- worth 13,000 dollars.
Iran made their World Cup debut in Argentina in 1978, but failed to progress beyond the first round.
Twenty years later the Iranian National Team qualified for the World Cup in France, where they scored a memorable victory against the United States.
... Payvand News - 6/9/05 ... --