KUALA LUMPUR, July 15 (Reuters) - Iran fought back from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw with China in a pulsating Asian Cup Group C clash on Sunday.
The battle of the group favourites lived up to its billing,
with China looking impressive in the first half before Iran's
big-name players responded in style to outclass their opponents
in the final 45 minutes.
Shao Jiayi and Mao Jianqing gave China a 2-0 lead inside
the first 33 minutes before Ferydoon Zandi pulled one back for
Iran on the stroke of halftime and Javad Nekounam equalised
midway through the second period.
The result leaves China and Iran level on four points at
the top of the group with the Chinese ahead on goal difference.
Uzbekistan are third on three points with co-hosts Malaysia
bottom of the standings following two losses.
Iran coach Amir Ghalenoei said his team's lack of focus in
the early stages had allowed China to dominate the first half.
'In our pre-match meeting we identified free-kicks and
certain players as dangers to us, and that is exactly how China
scored,' he told reporters.
'But we played really well in the second half and I'm happy
that we could escape with a 2-2 draw.'
China deservedly took the lead after seven minutes when
Shao converted a free-kick from 30 yards.
The midfielder floated his shot over the wall and past Iran
goalkeeper Hassan Roudbarian, who got a hand to the ball but
was unable to keep it out.
The goal stirred a lacklustre Iran into action with captain
Mehdi Mahdavikia deciding to abandon his right back position in
an attempt to strengthen the attack.
Just when it looked like Iran had China's measure, the 2004
Asian Cup runners-up doubled their lead.
Zheng Zhi crossed from the right and found Mao free in the
place where Mahdavikia would normally patrol.
The striker had plenty of time to bring the ball down and
crash his 12-yard shot past a diving Roudbarian.
Iran refused to buckle and three minutes later had their
first serious attempt on goal when Vahid Hashemian's sharp
header from Mahdavikia's cross was saved by Li Leilei.
In the 43rd minute, Mahdavikia had a sizzling 12-yard shot
parried by Li as the west Asian side continued to press.
However, Iran finally broke through as half-time approached
when Mahdavikia touched a free kick to Zandi, who sent a
curling 25-yard shot from the right beyond Li's grasp.
China stunned their fans by coming out with a defensive
formation for the second half with goal-scorer Mao and winger
Wang Dong substituted.
With their attacking options limited, China allowed Iran a
lot of space in midfield as Reza Enayati and Rahman Rezaei both
came close before Iran punished their opponents for their
negativity with an equaliser in the 72nd minute.
From a corner move, Mahdavikia floated the ball into the
box and Nekounam sparked wild celebrations on the Iran bench by
rising high to head the ball past Li into the right-hand
'Those players (Mao and Wang Dong) were tired,' China coach
Zhu Guanghu told said, denying he had employed negative tactics
after the break.
'I don't think any coach would play defensively in that
situation. We lost our lead because Iran put extra pressure on
us and we conceded two goals.'
The group concludes on Wednesday when Iran take on Malaysia
and China face Uzbekistan. The top-two will advance to the