Iran became the first team to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup after Karim Ansari Fard's second-half goal secured victory over North Korea.
Ansari Fard converted Pejman Nouri's cross in the 63rd minute to settle what was a largely poor Group D encounter at Qatar Sports Club Stadium as Iran followed up their opening 2-1 triumph over neighbours Iraq with another victory.
There was little in the way of goalmouth action in a dour opening 45 minutes. Jong Tae-Se stung Iran goalkeeper Mahdi Rahmati's hands with a free-kick after 16 minutes, and Ansari Fard had a goal ruled out for handball at the other end before Jong again tested Rahmati as the half drew to a close.
The opening exchanges in the second half also failed to produce any meaningful chances, Mohammad Reza Khalatbari's weak shot that was easily dealt with at his near post by Ri Myong-Guk the only real action before Iran took the lead just after the hour mark.
A throw-in down the left freed Nouri and the midfielder whipped in a low cross towards Ansari Fard which the striker guided first-time past the diving Ri and into the far corner with the outside of his boot to finally break the deadlock.
North Korea showed more attacking desire after falling behind and Hong Yong-jo nearly snatched an injury-time equaliser when the striker managed to lose his marker to collect a low cross, turn and shoot from 12 yards but the ball grazed the top of the crossbar, much to his and his country's disappointment.
Coach Afshin Ghotbi believes Iran have laid down a marker to the rest of the
Asian Cup contenders after a 1-0 victory over North Korea saw them qualify for
the quarter-finals with a game to spare.
Following a lacklustre first-half, Karim Ansari Fard's 63rd-minute goal lit up
an otherwise dour Group D contest at Qatar Sports Club to seal a second
consecutive triumph for Iran after their opening 2-1 win over neighbours Iraq.
"Our group was the 'group of death' and I still believe it is the most
difficult group in the tournament. To achieve this result two games in a row,
I'm very proud of my players,'' Ghotbi said. "Iran are capable of playing much better football. We will show that in the
"We will be fitter and more confident and hopefully you'll see much better
performances from our team. When we came to this tournament it was very important to try to get the job
done in the first two matches so we could have a longer recovery time for our
"I was very satisfied because we had four changes in our team due to the flu
and that shows that we have quality on the bench and we were able to sustain
that level of performance.
"Any time you make changes, it takes time in the game to find the rhythm you
need. The second factor was that when you play North Korea, you have to be
"In the first half we didn't pass the ball with enough speed and it gives the
North Koreans the opportunity to get numbers behind the ball. At half-time we talked about how important it was to stretch the game and
close them down quicker and higher and that changed the tempo of the game.''
The result leaves North Korea on the brink of elimination with just one point
from two games in which they have failed to find the back of the net. However, coach Jo Tong Sop insisted he would not change his side's
counter-attacking style in pursuit of goals and the victory they need over Iraq
in their final game to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the last eight.
"Of course we have only one point, so the next match is very critical for our
team to go for the knockout stage but we will try our best to win the match so
that we can proceed to the next round,'' he said. "In terms of the system, we converted to 4-4-2 and we combine attack and
defence and in this way we created new tactics for our team.
"For the next match, I think we have to again put the emphasis on defence and
try to score goals on the counter-attack.''