Three-time champions Iran and 2007 winners Iraq made serene progress into the last 16 of the Asian Cup on Saturday as they cruised to wins over Vietnam and Yemen respectively.
And there was good news for hosts United Arab Emirates as those results also guaranteed their progress into the knock-out phase.
Sardar Azmoun’s double for Iran secured a comfortable 2-0 win over Vietnam in Abu Dhabi while Mohanad Ali, Bashar Resan and Alaa Abbas struck as Iraq downed Yemen 3-0 in Sharjah.
Iran top Group C from Iraq on goal difference before they meet on Wednesday to determine the qualification order. Pointless Vietnam and Yemen play the other match knowing victory could open the door to progresss via the third-place ranking.
The UAE lead Group A on four points and even if they fall out of the two automatic qualification spots in Monday’s final game against Thailand, they will progress as a third-placed side.
Four third-placed teams progress and whoever finishes third in Groups C or D can achieve no more than three points.
Saudi Arabia can also secure qualification in Dubai later when they meet Lebanon in Group E.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz rotated the team which destroyed Yemen 5-0 but despite leaving Premier League midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh on the bench still had an abundance of quality on the pitch.
“It was a game where I think we could see two good teams fighting for the qualification,” said Queiroz.
“But I do believe we tried to play stronger, better.
“I think my players did very well and since the beginning we were able to frustrate completely the Vietnam team. With the performance in the first half we should have finished with two or three goals.”
The breakthrough came when Saman Ghoddos sprinted to the byline to reach Vorya Ghafouri’s clever pass and delivered a deep cross which left Azmoun a simple task in the 38th minute.
The Rubin Kazan attacker then evaded two defenders in the box to settle the tie 20 minutes from time.
Vietnam were bolder after the break but Nguyen Cong Phuong missed their only chance to equalise by shooting weakly at Alireza Beiranvand.
“Iran were much stronger than us,” Vietnam coach Park Hang Seo said. “It was not easy to fight today.”
Nguyen Quang Hai curled wide when a late consolation beckoned for Vietnam, who could yet qualify through the third-place ranking but must beat Yemen in their final match to have a chance.
“It’s not easy to get to the next round by ourselves,” Park said. “But we’re going to do our best and I really hope to get three points in the last match.”
Iraq needed a last-minute winner to defeat Vietnam but had no need for such dramatics against a hard-working but limited Yemen.
Ali’s drive somehow found its way past Saoud Al Sowadi in the 11th minute and keeper looked equally unimpressive as he misjudged Resan’s deflected shot which found the net via the post.
The woodwork denied Ali a second after the break but there was no way back for Yemen, who remain without a goal or point in their tournament debut, even before Abbas added a third in injury time.