Qatar doomed as Iran close on World Cup

David HARDING
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Iran's Mehdi Taremi (R) celebrates with teammate Sardar Azmoun (L) after scoring a goal against Qatar during their World Cup 2018 Asia qualifying football match in Doha on March 23, 2017

Iran all but ended Qatar's hopes of reaching the World Cup for the first time with a 1-0 victory in Doha on Thursday that exploded at the final whistle when staff and players from both sides clashed.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz, formerly an assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, further inflamed the home crowd afterwards when he responded to their baiting by blowing a kiss and he was booed all the way down the tunnel.

He and Qatar coach Jorge Fossati accused one another in the bitter aftermath but Queiroz had the last laugh knowing that Iran had taken a major step towards Russia 2018.

"We still have four games to go, anything could happen," the Portuguese, whose side tops the group by four points from South Korea with four games left, said.

"With a four-point lead we are in a comfortable position but we will play for our lives in our next game against China.

"We fight for our dreams, we play for our dreams."

Iran can also end China's remote dreams of the World Cup when they play on March 28 in Tehran.

Qatar head to Uzbekistan for their next qualifier the same night but the 2022 World Cup hosts will not be in Russia next year, unless there is a miracle.

A cool Mehdi Taremi finish in the 52nd minute was the difference between the two sides in an ill-tempered match.

Defeat left ambitious Qatar bottom of the group, six points off the automatic qualification spots.

"After the goal we continued putting in the effort but we didn't have the organisation," said Fossati.

"Without organisation it's very difficult to beat a very tough opponent."

Asked about Qatar's hopes of making it to Russia he responded glumly: "I am not sure about the mathematics but for sure we are back in a very bad, bad situation."

Taremi's winner came during a tight, tense encounter with neither team carving many clear-cut chances.

Early on Karim Ansarifard and FC Rostov's Sardar Azmoun tested out Yasir Isa in Qatar's goal, but no team really looked like breaking the deadlock.

The match soon settled into a cagey battle with both teams unwilling to take many risks, aware of what was at stake.

The home side pressed early in the second half, but after being picked off by Taremi, rarely threatened a goal.

Qatar had a strong shout for a penalty in the 68th minute when young star Akram Afif appeared to be tripped in the penalty area.

The final whistle was the cue for the two benches to clash with coaching staff from both sides coming together and arguing on the touchline as the Iranian players celebrated their victory.