Football: World Cup: Iranians rue lack of finish

Yugoslavia 1 Mihajlovic 73 Iran 0 Att: 30,392
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The Independent Online
YUGOSLAVIA ARE regarded in some quarters as dark horses for this World Cup but their return yesterday after an eight-year absence from major international finals was far from impressive. The Yugoslavs, who missed one World Cup and two European championships because of the civil war in their country, were lucky to win a game in which most of the attacking enterprise came from an accomplished and well organised Iranian team.

Iran had their chances, but their finishing was poor and they were unable to reward the vociferous support of thousands of their supporters.

Yugoslavia never got their game together as Iran packed the midfield and Dragan Stojkovic, the Europeans' play-maker, barely made his mark on the match. Iran, in contrast, played some neat football, although they lacked a cutting edge and for long periods the game was a messy affair which cried out for some inspiration.

A Mexican wave is a sure sign of tedium and the first one went around the ground after 35 minutes. If this enlivened the crowd, it also seems to inspire some activity on the pitch as Iran immediately produced three incisive attacks in little more than a minute.

The first produced Iran's best chance of the first half. Khodadad Azizi found Mehrdad Minavand Chal in acres of space in the Yugoslav right, but the Iranian midfielder hesitated and when he did shoot he drove the ball wide of the near post. A similar move then saw Mehdi Pashazadeh break clear but his weak cross was easily blocked.

Although Goran Djorovic had hit the bar with a header from Stojkovic's corner, the Yugoslavs created little from open play and they made three changes after the interval.

Savo Milosevic made way for Perica Ognjenovic and Dejan Stankovic, the teenage prodigy who joins Lazio next season, came on for Branko Brnovic. To a round of booing from Yugoslav supporters, Stojkovic was then replaced by Darko Kovacevic.

The changes did little to improve Yugoslavia's play and when they eventually scored after 72 minutes it was no surprise that it came from a set piece. Sinisa Mihajlovic had already seen one free-kick saved at the foot of a post and Iran should have been prepared when the Sampdoria defender lined up another strike at goal. The defensive wall appeared poorly positioned, however, and Mihajlovic beat Nima Nakisa with a sweetly struck left-foot shot from 25 yards.

The goal at least opened up the game and Iran created another excellent chance, only for Mehdi Mahdavikia to repeat the earlier mistakes of his colleagues by dwelling on the ball. Ali Daei might have done better with a header which was saved Ivic Kralj and at the other end Yugoslavia created a couple of chances from open play, Mijatovic bringing a fine save from Nakisa with a fierce shot and then failing to find the target with a far post header. On this evidence, though, Yugoslavia have much work to do.

YUGOSLAVIA (4-4-2): Kralj (Partizan Belgrade); Mirkovic (Atalanta), Djorovic (Celta Vigo), Mihajlovic (Sampdoria), Petrovic (Urawa Red Diamonds); Jokanovic (Tenerife), Stojkovic (Nagoya Grampus Eight), Brnovic (Espanyol), Jugovic (Lazio); Milosevic (Real Zaragoza), Mijatovic (Real Madrid). Substitutes: Stankovic (Red Star Belgrade) for Brnovic, 50; Ognjenovic (Red Star Belgrade) for Milosevic, 58; Kovacevic (Real Sociedad) for Stojkovic, 68.

IRAN (3-5-2): Nakisa (Pirouzi Tehran); Khakpour (Pirouzi Tehran), Mohammadkhani (Poli-Ekril Isfahan), Pashazadeh (Esteghlal Tehran); Zarincheh (Esteghlal Tehran), Mahdavikia (Pirouzi Tehran), Bagheri (Arminia Bielefeld), Estili (Bahman Tehran), Minavand Chal (Pirouzi Tehran); Azizi (Cologne), Daei (Arminia Bielefeld). Substitute: Mansourian (Esteghlal Tehran) for Estili, 68.

Referee: A Tejada Noriega (Peru).