Tehran, March 24 (IANS) A lacklustre India went down 0-4 to Asian football giants Iran in a one-sided 2018 World Cup qualifier at the Azadi Stadium here on Thursday.
Ehsan Hajsafi (33rd, 66th minutes) struck twice from the penalty spot, while Sardar Azmoun (61st) and Alireza Jahanbakhsh (78th) struck once each.
Iran finished as the top team in Group D with 17 points. India remain last in the five-team group with just three points to their name ahead of their final game against Turkmenistan in Kochi on March 29.
India do have a faint chance of qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup, but they will have to defeat Turkmenistan and depend on results from other matches in the group.
Up against the highest ranked team in Asia, the Indians adopted a defensive approach. But they produced a limp performance and were undone by a couple of defensive blunders which led to penalties.
The men in blue started off well enough, restricting the hosts to just a single goal in the first half. But their game fell apart in the second half as Iran, coached by former Manchester United manager Carlos Quieroz, made their domination count.
The visitors were without the injured duo of Sunil Chhetri and Eugeneson Lyngdoh, who were replaced by Udanta Singh and Pronay Halder respectively. In defence, Arnab Mondal and Pritam Kotal made way for Sandesh Jhingan and Aiborlang Khongjee. Iran also made several changes to their starting line-up and fielded a young team.
Iran got their first chance in the eighth minute and Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh had to rush off his line in order to to deny Azmoun.
India should have scored five minutes later, but Holicharan Nazary saw his attempt sail above the bar with Iran goalkeeper Mohammad Rashid Mazaheri off his line.
Gurpreet parried away another Iranian attempt in the 17th minute before Jhingan survived a penalty appeal two minutes later after bringing down Alireza inside the box.
The relentless pressure by the hosts took its toll when a reckless high-boot challenge from Bikash Jairu saw the referee point to the spot and the East Bengal winger was handed a booking as well. Off the subsequent penalty, Hajsafi sent Gurpreet the wrong way to open the scoring.
Jairu was substituted three minutes later by fellow East Bengal player Harmanjot Singh Khabra.
The hosts continued to create chances at regular intervals and nearly doubled their lead early in the second half as Ezatolahi headed just wide from a corner-kick.
Azmoun, nicknamed the ‘Iranian Messi’, went close in the 52nd minute as he curled an effort wide from the edge of the area. Gurpreet then parried away Morteza’s effort three minutes later.
Iran doubled their lead when a Hajsafi corner found Azmoun, who received the ball on his thigh before finding the target from close range.
The visitors conceded another penalty when Narayan Das’s attempt at a headed clearance saw the ball strike his hand. Hajsafi scored his second goal from the spot to put the issue beyond the visitor’s reach.
The hosts scored their fourth goal thanks to another piece of poor work by the Indian defenders. Alireza was allowed plenty of space and time as he cut in from the right flank to bulge the net with a well-placed finish.