TEHRAN - Ali Daei, the world's all-time highest international goalscorer, has ruled out resigning as Iran coach after his side let slip a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in World Cup qualifying on Saturday. The Saudis' win in Tehran gave them a World Cup lifeline but pushed the Iranians down to fourth place in Group 2 with six points from their five games played. With a top two finish and automatic qualification looking unlikely, three-times qualifiers Iran now face a dogfight to clinch a playoff berth. "I'm happy with the players performance and I'm not going to resign," Daei told reporters. "We conceded those two goals because of our mistakes but I can understand how difficult it is for everybody." Playing in a packed Azadi stadium, the Saudis battled hard throughout the match and blocked out the jeers of the hostile crowd to scored twice in eight minutes after going behind to Masoud Shojaei's impressive 57th-minute strike. They will see the result as justice given a disallowed goal and rejected penalty appeal in the first half, both of which appeared legitimate. Naif Hazadi and Osama al-Harbi scored in the last 12 minutes in an amazing comeback to give the Saudis a chance to reach their fifth successive finals. Daei, who scored 109 international goals for Iran, insisted his team's chances of qualification were still realistic. "What we have to do is try harder and claim as many points as we can in the forthcoming games," he added. North Korea lead the group on 10 points, ahead of South Korea, who have played one less game, on eight. Saudi Arabia have seven points and take on bottom side UAE, who have one point, on Wednesday. The top two teams in each group advance, with the third-placed side entering playoffs for the final berth.
29 March 2009
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