Iran qualifies for 2018 World Cup after beating Uzbekistan
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Iran became the second team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup by beating Uzbekistan 2-0 late Monday, sparking celebrations in the streets.
It is the first time Iran has qualified for consecutive World Cups, and will be its fifth appearance at soccer's marquee tournament.
Sardar Azmoun scored in the 23rd minute and Mehdi Taremi in the 88th at Azadi Stadium in Tehran.
Iran, managed by former Real Madrid and Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz since 2011, tops Group A of Asian qualifying. The team is unbeaten from eight games and eight points clear of third-placed Uzbekistan with two qualifiers remaining, so cannot be denied a top-two finish and an automatic spot in Russia next year.
South Korea is in second place, a point ahead of Uzbekistan with a game in hand.
Iran has yet to concede a goal in qualifying in a run which has renewed the confidence with fans.
Vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri was present at the stadium for the game, among the almost 60,000 supporters celebrating when the referee blew full-time.
The Iranian players celebrated with the national flag, broadcast live on TV with a rousing soundtrack. Men, woman and children spilled into the streets with flags and chants and motorists honked their horns.
In the main streets and squares Tehrani residents gathered and chanted ''Queiroz, we love you,'' and ''Queiroz, thank you.''
Ashkan Kasraeian drove with his wife and friends to be part of the celebrations.
''I came out to join this national celebration,'' he said. ''I am proud of my national football team and I love Carlos Queiroz.''
He said he hopes Iran will retain Queiroz has head coach even after the World Cup.
Brazil was the first team to qualify for next year's World Cup in Russia, and Iran represents the first of four automatic qualifiers from Asia.
Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa praised the consistency of the Iran team.
''I hope their qualification for the FIFA World Cup will inspire the team to do Asia proud next year in Russia,'' Sheikh Salman said.
The top two teams in both Asian groups will qualify automatically for Russia, and the two third-place teams going into a series of playoffs for another spot.
South Korea was targeting a win over Qatar on Tuesday to solidify second spot in the group. Group B leader Japan was also playing in Tehran, the neutral venue for Iraq's scheduled home game.