Asian Cup 2019: Iraq, Saudi Arabia secure sensational victories

Asian Cup 2019: Iraq, Saudi Arabia secure sensational victories
Iraq meets Vietnam and Saudi Arabia plays North Korea in their debut games for the Asian Cup.
4 min read
09 Jan, 2019
Iraq beat Vietnam 3-2 after a sensational last minute goal [Getty]

The fourth day of the AFC Asian Cup, which gave Iraq and Saudi Arabia their debut matches in this year's tournament, was proven to be both fascinating and joyful for the Middle Eastern teams.

The Iraqis played against the rising South East Asian power, Vietnam at Zeyad Sports City Stadium, in what was a game thrilling game between two of the youngest teams in the tournament.

Srečko Katanec’s players were kept in uncertainty by their coach until the last few hours before kickoff regarding the first eleven, when the Slovenian coach finally announced the starting lineup with few surprising changes. Bashar Resan and Humam Tariq opened on the bench, causing the Lions of Mesopotamia great stress.

Iraq faced pressure after scoring an own goal in the 24th minute, providing the Vietnamese team with a leg up in the first half. The own goal, by Ali Faez, came after a lack of communication with his goalkeeper, Jalal Hachem.

But despite the disappointing state, Iraq managed to regain their standing quite promptly, after a great goal by the talented Mohanad Ali. The 18 year old forward pierced through two defenders in the counter-attack and secured a solid goal, bringing Iraq back into the game with style.

Mohanad is definitely a talent to watch in the tournament, and his debut appearance in Asia’s top stage has so far been at a substantially high level. Meanwhile, after reevaluating his decision, Katanec gave Bashar Resan the opportunity to contribute to the game instead of Dhia Putros on the 37th minute.

But the Iraqis couldn’t hold on to their lead for a long time and their open midfield paved the way for Nguyen Cong Phuong to land a goal. By half time, Vietnam was leading 2-1, prompting nerves to kick in for Iraq's talents. 

Change soon came in the second half when ‘Iraqi Messi’, Humam Tariq entered the field. Tariq made an immediate impact by firing the ball into the goal after a tremendous counter-attack just two minutes after substitution. Tariq did almost everything on the pitch, and most importantly - injected some ambition in the team’s captain - Ali Adnan.

At 2-2 the match seemingly calmed but Adnan’s moment of glory came at the 90th minute when Iraq won a free kick in quite a strategic position. The Iraqi captain, known for his free kicks, curled the ball home from 20 yards to seal a sensational 3-2 victory for Iraq.

Adnan’s winning goal for Iraq was the first final minute goal in the Asian Cup since January 2015, when Iran's Reza Ghoochannejhad scored at 90 minutes to seal a victory against UAE (excluding extra-time goals).

Katanec could not bring himself to watch the free kick but was ecstatic to learn it had successfully reached its target. It’s clear that the coach has a lot to learn and change now that he is aware of the players’ abilities, especially under intense pressure.

Iraq has now won five of its last six Asian Cup group games (L1), including the opening game in the last two tournaments.

Tuesday’s match was a good indication for Iraq’s chances in Group D and made it clear that the final day of the group stage, with a game against Iran in Dubai, will probably determine who will qualify from the first spot.

Meanwhile, on the second game of the night, Saudi Arabia met with North Korea on the pitch for the their debut game.

The Saudis, one of the main contenders to win the tournament, enjoyed a somewhat easy tryout against North Korea before the more testing games against Lebanon & Qatar. 

Saudi Arabia’s Hatan Bahbri proved to be a nuisance for the Koreans along the left flank and his cross into the box in the 24th minute showed just how much of a threat he was.

Four minutes later, Bahbri dribbled past DPR Korea’s Ri Il-jin and let loose a strike to open the scoring. 

The Green Falcons gained some confidence after the goal and doubled their lead in the 37th minute with an amazing back-heel goal by Mohammed al-Fatil.

DPR Korea suffered a red card when Han Kwang-song received a second yellow card for a tackle on Almoqahwi just before halftime.

On the 70th minute, Salem al-Dawsari was left unmarked and the Saudi captain scored with ease to make it 3-0. Al-Dawsari ended a sequence of 19 passes - the longest seen for a goal in an Asian Cup match since January 2011 (Shinji Okazaki for Japan v Saudi Arabia - also 19 passes).

Fahed al-Muwallad added another goal, making it 4-0 just three minutes to the final whistle, sealing Saudi Arabia's first opening Asian Cup match victory since 1996, when they emerged as champions.  

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.