Veteran defender Karim Bagheri scored 10 minutes from time as Iran grabbed an undeserved point from their Asian World Cup qualifier in the United Arab Emirates.
The home side had gone ahead through captain Abdulraheem Juma's strike after 19 minutes and could have extended that advantage but for some poor finishing.
They were made to pay for their lack of cutting edge in the closing stages when Bagheri headed a Masoud Shojaei cross into the net - a goal that moves Iran to the top of Group Two, ahead of tonight's fixture between Saudi Arabia and South Korea, on five points from three games.
The point for UAE, while their first of the campaign, will do little for morale after their boss, Dominique Bathenay, spoke in the lead-up to the game about the importance of winning.
Their hopes of qualifying for South Africa 2010 now look slim as they remain marooned at the bottom of the group with just one point from four games.
A draw was an unlikely result following a bright start from the home team that earned just reward when Juma netted after 19 minutes.
The UAE captain played a neat one-two with Ismaeil Matar before rifling a right-footed shot past Seyed Mahdi Rahmati.
Chances continued to fall UAE's way and Rahmati had to be alert to divert Nawaf Mubarak's powerful free-kick away for a corner.
The keeper again came to Iran's rescue moments later when he blocked Al Hammadi's shot from inside the area before Mubarak blasted another good chance over the crossbar.
Bathenay's side continued to dominate play after the interval with Matar forcing another save from Rahmati while Mubarak sent a shot, this time on the volley, over the crossbar.
Iran had been off the pace for the majority of the game but indicated they were capable of finding an equaliser when Masoud Shojaei's 76th-minute free-kick forced Majed Nasser to tip the ball over the crossbar.
At the other end UAE passed up another opportunity when substitute striker Ahmed Khalil could only shoot straight at Rahmati when well placed.
Their inability to find a second goal was then punished 10 minutes from time when Bagheri met Shojaei's left-wing cross before directing his powerful header low past Majed Nasser.
United Arab Emirates coach Dominique Bathenay conceded his side's hopes of qualifying for the World Cup are all but over after they failed to beat Iran today.
"We still have a chance mathematically," said Bathenay. "But we don't really have much hope now. This match was our last chance and we gave it our best, but unfortunately it was not good enough.
"We created a number of chances, but could not convert them and that proved costly."
South Korea top the table with seven points after beating Saudi Arabia 2-0, with Iran two points behind and one point clear of North Korea and Saudi Arabia with all four having played three games.
Iran coach Ali Daei saluted his side after surviving the UAE onslaught to remain undefeated in their bid to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup for the first time in their history.
"This is the best I have seen UAE play for a long time. Many other teams would have lost to the UAE tonight so I am proud of my team and the way they fought to get a point," said Daei.
"We started very badly and played a poor first half. It is the worst I have seen this team play. We gifted the ball to them.
"In the second half, we were a lot better and created plenty of chances. We put pressure on them and eventually got the equaliser."