Iran were on Monday facing a tense set of final World Cup qualifying matches after the Team Melli again underperformed in a goalless draw against a spirited United Arab Emirates side.
The result is set to increase the pressure on Iran's inexperienced coach, the world record holder for international goals Ali Daei, as all their qualifying matched have now ended in draws.
Tehran's gigantic 100,000-seater Azadi stadium was only half full with around 35,000 Iranian spectators and a sprinkling of UAE fans witnessing a new failure by Iran to properly organise its obvious talents on the pitch.
The nearest the match came to a goal was when Iran's captain and player for Spain's Osasuna Javad Nekounam hit a header on target, only to be denied by the lively UAE goalkeeper Majed Nasser.
Daei, Iran's former talismanic striker who cut a tense figure throughout the humid night, tried out all his cards, changing the maximum three substitutes 20 minutes before the end of match.
Iran now have three points from three matches and the UAE have five points. The other two sides in the group, Syria and Kuwait, still have a chance of qualification.
With players from the European leagues and some of Asia's biggest stars, it would be a major upset if Iran failed to qualify for the next phase but the team will have to improve to go further.
By contrast, the UAE side jubilantly raised their hands in the air after the final whistle and celebrated while Iranian players trudged unhappily around the pitch.
The UAE's French coach Bruno Metso, clearly delighted by the result, said after the game: “We achieved what we came here for and we will keep moving” to the World Cup finals.
The two sides meet again on June 7 but this time on UAE turf.
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