North Korea spurned their chance of earning an early play-off place for next year's World Cup finals in South Africa when they were held to a goalless draw
with Iran on Saturday.
The draw was also a blow to three-times qualifiers Iran, who
needed three points and now face an uphill struggle to reach the
Playing before an impassioned crowed in Pyongyang, North
Korea, second in Group Two behind rivals South Korea, were
outclassed in the first half by a determined Iran side.
Vahid Hashemian could have put the visitors ahead four
minutes into the match when he shot on the turn and drew a good
save from Ri Myong-guk.
After prolonged spells of dangerous Iranian attacks,
Hashemian came close again on 40 minutes when his half-volley
from eight metres after Ali Karimi's perfect cross went just
wide of the post.
Chasing three points to secure at least a playoffs berth
with one game to play, North Korea perked up after the break and
pressured the Iranians throughout.
The talented Jong Tae-se was a constant menace and had a
superb long-range effort turned away by the Iranian keeper on 77
Moments later, Iran could have sealed the win when Hosein
Kaebi intercepted a poor pass on the edge of the area, skipped
around the defence and fired a weak shot wide of the target.
The hosts responded to the roaring crowd in the final
minutes and should have sealed the win in stoppage time.
Hong Yong-jo found himself alone in space 35 metres away
from goal but blasted the ball hopelessly wide of the target
after he was panicked by the advancing keeper.
Jong could also have taken the points in the dying seconds
when his close-range header went over the bar.
North Korea, who last reached the World Cup in 1966, are
second on 11 points while Iran remain fourth, on seven.
The top two teams advance to South Africa, while the
third-placed side gets a chance to progress via playoffs.