Tuesday, November 29, 2011

29 November 1997 - So Close, And Yet So Far

On 29 November 1997, Iran qualified for their first World Cup in 20 years with a late goal against Australia in a playoff.

It was the second playoff of Iran's qualification campaign as, after finishing second in their Asian Football Confederation group, they lost a playoff after extra time to the other AFC group's second-place finisher, Japan. That loss sent them to the two-legged intercontinental playoff against Oceania champions Australia.

In the first leg, played at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, Australia took a 19th-minute lead, but surrendered a goal in the 40th minute and the match ended as a 1-1 draw. They met at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the second leg one week later, where the match played out in similar fashion.

Australia went up 2-0 with goals from Harry Kewell (32') and Aurelio Vidmar (48') and appeared to have secured their place in the World Cup. But Iranian midfielder Karim Bagheri pulled one back in the 71st minute, then forward Khodadad Azizi got the equalizer four minutes later, beating goalkeeper Mark Bosnich. The match ended 2-2 and the aggregate score of 3-3 sent Iran to the World Cup on away goals.

There, they secured a dramatic 1-2 win over the United States, but were eliminated in the group stage with losses to Yugoslavia and Germany.

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