Moments and Milestones: Ali Daei's 23 minute masterclass

July 1, 2016 - 16:52

Join as we continue our Moments and Milestones series with a look back to the 1996 AFC Asian Cup, a tournament that will long be remembered for Ali Daei's stunning quarter-final performance.

When Iran's Ali Daei retired in 2007, he did so as the most prolific striker in the history of international football, but it didn't happen overnight.

Midway through 1996 Daei, already 27-years-old, had only scored seven of his eventual 109 goals for Iran, but the next six months would produce 22 international goals, culminating in one of the greatest individual performances in the history of Asian football.

Team Melli arrived at the 1996 AFC Asian Cup with a strong squad, featuring Daei, who bagged 12 goals in qualifying, and the precocious talents of Khodadad Azizi, Karim Bagheri and future star Mehdi Mahdavikia.

Despite a shaky start to the tournament, losing 2-1 to neighbours Iraq in their first match, Iran hit back with commanding wins over Thailand (3-1) and Saudi Arabia (3-0), with Daei scoring in all three matches in Group B.

in Group A, and chasing their first AFC Asian Cup since 1960, Korea Republic were having a tougher time.

After earning a 1-1 draw against hosts United Arab Emirates in the tournament opener, the Taeguek Warriors raced to a 4-0 lead before eventually winning 4-2 over Indonesia. In the final group match the Koreans suffered a 2-0 loss to a semi-final bound Kuwait, and only qualified for the knockout stage as one of the two highest ranked third-placed teams.

In the quarter-finals, two of Asian football's major powers met under the beaming Emirati sun and with many fans still making their way into the Al Maktoum Stadium.

Iran were the team in form and nearly went ahead when a superb Daei effort forced a smart near post save from Kim Byung-ji after ten minutes.

But less than a minute later Team Melli found themselves defensively exposed, and a goal behind after Kim Do-hoon finished off a move that saw the ball go from one end of the pitch to the other within twenty seconds. 1-0 Korea Republic.

Iran equalised on the stroke of the half-hour, when a lofted corner kick found an unmarked Bagheri, whose powerful 18-yard header clipped a Korean foot, and deflected into the net.

Iran's hard work was undone in three minutes when a simple, speculative cross wasn't properly dealt with, presenting future AFC Champions League winning coach Shin Tae-yong with the opportunity to volley home from 12 yards, which he duly accepted.

Korea had the better chances in the latter stages of the first half, but went to the dressing room with a 2-1 lead, representing a marked improvement from the performance against Kuwait.

When the teams emerged for the second half, with the floodlights now beaming and the stadium filled, it looked like a totally different game to the one that had started an hour earlier and as far as the action on the pitch was concerned, it was.

Iran were immediately on the front foot; Azizi had a shot blocked on the goal line in less than three minutes, and Bagheri should have doubled his tally two minutes later.

Such was Team Melli's pressure that it came as no surprise when 1996 Asian Footballer of the Year Azizi finally equalised in the 52nd minute after latching on to Daei's measured pass.

At 2-2, and with elimination looming for the loser, the game was already a dramatic, high-quality affair between two of Asia's powers, but Ali Daei was about to turn the contest from entertaining to unforgettable with 23 minutes of magic.

In the 66th minute, with Iran’s talented playmakers growing in confidence after repeated raids at the Korean penalty area, the Daei show began.

Daei received the ball 35 yards from goal, brushed off a defender, dribbled into the penalty area and hammered the ball into the far corner from 15 yards, before wheeling away in delight and being mobbed by teammates and coaching staff.

Daei had scored for the fourth consecutive match in the tournament and put his country in front for the first time in the quarter final, but he was just getting started.

Ten minutes later Daei scored one of the greatest goals in the history of AFC competition, when he was able to perfectly control a 30 yard cross with the inside of his right foot, before instantly shifting his body into a position where he could hammer a half volley into the top right-hand corner from just outside the box.

It was a remarkable, unstoppable goal, and one that realistically took the game away from Korea Republic.

Daei’s hat-trick was complete in the 83rd minute when the Koreans, desperate to close the two goal gap and stay in the tournament, pushed men forward, leaving the outstanding Azizi far too much room to set up Daei for a simple eight-yard tap in.

Azizi was at it again just before full time when he was brought down by goalkeeper Kim, and it was left to Daei to stroke home his fourth goal in just 23 minutes from the penalty spot.

Remarkably, after trailing at half-time, Iran won the match 6-2, marking an historic and memorable win on Asia’s biggest stage. For Korea Republic, the AFC Asian Cup silverware drought dating back to 1960 continued.

Iran’s tournament would also end in disappointment, losing painfully in the semi final on penalties after a 0-0 draw with the same Saudi side they had convincingly beaten in the group stage, with Daei missing in the shootout. But despite its bitter postscript, Daei’s performance stands out as one of historic greatness.

He isn’t the only player to have scored four goals in one AFC Asian Cup match (Behtash Fariba, Ismaeel Abdullatif and Hamza Al-Dardour are the others), but the stage of the competition and level of the opponent and the sheer quality of the goals puts his display, arguably, in a league of its own.

Daei would go on to score 78 more international goals, and achieve countless records throughout his sparkling 149-cap career, but few performances stick in the memory like that amazing night in Dubai. 



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