SEOUL (Reuters) - If South Korea and Iran thought Tuesday’s friendly international in Tehran would take the sting out of their increasingly acrimonious rivalry, they were vastly mistaken.
The hosts’ controversial 1-0 win at the Azadi Stadium ended with players, coaches and officials having to be pulled apart by cooler heads, with Korea coach Uli Stielike and his Iran counterpart Carlos Queiroz mixed up in the melee.
Relations between the two sides soured during qualifying for the last World Cup, when Korea complained about inadequate training facilities in Tehran and then-coach Choi Kang-hee saying he would enjoy eliminating Iran from the race to Brazil.
The Iranians came to Seoul for the return leg in the final group game last year and beat Korea 1-0, sparking ugly scenes on the sidelines as Queiroz and his assistants celebrated by rushing towards the Korean bench and gesturing wildly.
Substitute Sardar Azmoun’s late winner on Tuesday, when he appeared to impede Korean goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon after Javad Nekounam’s free kick came back off both posts, maintained Iran’s unbeaten record at home against the Koreans.
Former German international Stielike, who has engineered a revival of the national team since arriving in September, remonstrated angrily with Uzbek referee Valentin Kovalenko after the final whistle and had to be escorted away from trouble.
“Iran had 20 fouls in the first half and didn’t pick up a yellow card,” a seething Stielike said after the match, adding that the goal should never been allowed to stand.
“The referee, his assistant both made a big mistake.”
The match was Korea’s last warm-up for the Jan. 9-31 Asian Cup in Australia, and Stielike was confident his side would be hard to beat.
“I hope we get to play Iran again at the Asian Cup,” added Stielike. “We’ll have a good referee then.”
South Korea, who could face Iran in the semi-finals, have been grouped with hosts Australia, Kuwait and Oman in the first stage of the Asian Cup.
Iran are matched with United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain.
Additional reporting by Sohee Kim; writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Ian Ransom