After lucky escape against Oman, final spot beckons for highly strung team After one hour and 46 minutes of the competition, Iran's hopes of success appeared to be sliding towards an ignominious end. Instead, they are now 90 minutes away from reaching their first final since the Islamic Revolution. The shouting, finger pointing and ultimately face slapping of the furious exchange between defenders Rahman Rezaei and Ali Badavi midway through Iran's match with Oman appeared symptomatic of a highly strung squad on the brink of self-destruction. Crucially, Bahrain referee Abdul Rahman al-Delawar failed to recognise the exchange as violent conduct, nor did he punish Mohammad Nosrati for stamping on Imad Ali, whose two goals had put Oman on course for victory. With 10, nine or even eight men, there would be no coming back. With 11, Iran were able to fashion an injury time equaliser for Nosrati. The embarrassment, rather than the belated punishment for the three players' actions, has been the glue that has bound the squad together, helped them to that incredible 4-3 win over World Cup semi-finalists South Korea and now sees them settling down in Beijing to prepare to face the hosts in tomorrow's semi-final. 'Iranian people are very emotional and very sensitive,' said Croatian coach Branko Ivankovic calmly; far more calmly than one might expect for a man who seems to be sitting on the most explosive football teams in the world. 'Everybody has to be careful. They're very polite in their communication with each other. They respect each other. They respect seniority. They call Ali Daei, Ali Agha - Mr Ali. They respect each other in a way that is not usual in a football team. They're very proud and as a result they can quickly come to fight.' Those fights, normally verbal, rather than physical are legendary. At the 2000 Asian Cup it was the mercurial Ali Karimi who clashed with Daei, and coach Jalal Talebi who felt the wrath of almost everyone. Ivankovic, who arrived in Tehran initially as assistant to fellow Croat Miroslav Blazevic - the pair had taken their own country to the semi-finals of France 98 - has been fortunate. In his two big tournaments as Iran coach something has happened to bring his team together. The gold medal at the Pusan Asian Games would not have been theirs had the death of Daei's father not provided an emotional tie to bind the squad together. This time the squabble between Rezaei and Badavi, which earned both players two-match bans, has focused the minds. 'It can happen,' said Ivankovic, reeling off a list of similar examples from European club football. 'It's not normal, not usual, but I can understand it. I am not for it, but I can understand.' It used to be that Iran's squad, and all their problems were based on the split between Tehran giants Pirouzi and Esteghlal. But the birth of the professional league in 2001 has broken that hegemony. Now the young players are from the provinces: from Esfahan club Sepahan, or, in the case of Badavi and five other teammates, from Foulad. 'Rahman told him something, he reacted,' Ivankovic explained, alluding to a remark that seemingly questioned the youngsters place of origin. 'He felt he had to because of his family, his friends. 'He's proud and he should protect his pride. Rahman plays in Italy, he's now under the influence of the Italian style of playing. He felt he could tell him [Badavi] something, thinking he should play another way.' Ivankovic said he was talked out of sending the players home by Daei and that Rezaei, who will play in Serie A for newly promoted Messina next season after a couple of seasons with Perugia, would return to the team against China. Previously he has said the level of education in Iran contributes to the squabbling, but that the main reason is that there's too much pressure on the players in a country with a proud tradition in football, dating back to appearances in the 1978 and 1998 World Cup finals. 'They're so frightened of losing. They have so much pressure from the media, officials, family, friends, from their clubs and even the government sometimes.