SYDNEY - Sardar Azmoun's brilliant solo goal earned Iran a 1-0 win over Qatar and a place in the Asian Cup quarter-finals alongside United Arab Emirates on Thursday.
Solid Qatari defending kept Iran at bay until shortly after half-time in Sydney when Azmoun's instinctive touch and shot ended their resistance and sent a partisan crowd wild.
Carlos Queiroz's Team Melli are now into the quarter-finals for the sixth time in a row and continue to look strong contenders to break their 39-year Asian Cup drought.
But Qatar crashed out just weeks after winning the Gulf Cup in November and they exit Group C alongside Bahrain, eliminated after a 2-1 loss to UAE earlier.
Noisy Iranian fans made for a festive atmosphere at Stadium Australia but the party did not get going on the pitch as the three-times champions struggled to break down a resilient Qatar side.
Rubin Kazan forward Azmoun, a former target of Premier League giants Arsenal and Liverpool, was in the thick of the action and had a header saved early on.
The Qatari defence also reacted sharply to smother another promising chance when Ashkan Dejagah picked out the young striker in the box.
As half-time beckoned, Morteza Pouraliganji had a header cleared off the line and the busy, Qatar-based Dejagah cut in from the right and fired across the face of goal.
Iran looked to be running out of ideas until Azmoun lit up the Sydney evening and ignited the crowd with his fabulous touch and score on 52 minutes.
When former Fulham man Dejagah picked out Azmoun on the edge of the box, the 20-year-old still had much to do to evade the attentions of defender Abdelkarim Hassan.
But in a moment of supreme quality, he dragged the ball between his legs and into space in the box, before sweeping it into the bottom right-hand corner.
Azmoun's joy was short-lived and he was stretchered off and limped to the bench on the hour-mark, as Qatar threw on the Khalfan Ibrahim, the player the country call "Maradona".
However, the diminutive Ibrahim was unable to turn the tide and instead it was Iran who had chances on the counter-attack as Qatar poured forward in search of an equaliser.
In a late scare, Ali Asadalla Thaimn hit Iran's post with an injury-time header but the effort was offside and Queiroz sank to his knees in joy as the final whistle blew.