Iran managed to take top spot in Group D after a stalemate against Iraq. The battle of the titans was expected to be the first real test for both teams but it turned out to be a tame affair. While both teams had already qualified to the next round there was first place to play for and that spot may have big implications.
Iraq struggled in the first half as Iran was in control and put Iraq on the back heal. In the 12th minute Sardar Azmoun met a cross with his head but narrowly missed the target. It was the best chance of the half for Iran until the 42nd minute when Alireza Jahanbaksh missed a glorious opportunity from inside the box.
In addition to a number of penalty claims by the Iranian team a foul by Saman Ghoddos highlighted the tense nature of the match. Ghoddos seemed to stomp on the Iraqi player and the experience Uzbek referee pulled out the yellow card. While the Iraqi’s were pushing for a red it did not appear that Ghoddos had malicious intent.
Adjustments at half time paid off for the Iraqi team resulting in a better performance in the second half for the Iraqi’s. The best opportunity of the match for Iraq came in the 77th minute when Alaa Abbas headed the ball towards top corner of the Iranian goal. It looked like a certain goal until Iranian keeper Alireza Beiranvand interfered to push the ball over. It was a magnificant save by Beiranvand and the highlight of the match.
A scoreless draw may have been the appropriate score for the day but both teams will have to improve if they seek to go far in the tournament. Iran now awaits the conclusion of the group phase to find out which third place team it will face. Iraq is also waiting to find out who will win Group E, Qatar or Saudi Arabia.
Iran has is now assured that it will not face Australia or South Korea until the final match. If Japan were to finish second in group F then Iran would also avoid Japan until the final. This outcome would be an optimal outcome. Regardless of the path to the final Iran will have to improve if they are to win the cup.
Iran and Iraq play today in a battle of group D giants. Both teams come into the groups final match day with two wins each. Iran currently sit in top spot on goal difference. Iraq can only take top spot with a win. The battle for top spot has many dimensions including perhaps an easier path to the final.
Top spot matters to both teams because the winner of the group faces one of the best third place finishers. Depending on how the final group matches end this top spot could mean avoiding Australia, Japan and South Korea until the final match. This clearly is a prize worth fighting for. Not only would they be avoided but if the three favourites fall into the same bracket it could be a bruising journey to the final for them. The second place team from group D will face the first place team from group E, currently held by Qatar but dependent on the final match between Qatar and Saudi.
There is one more thing we can not avoid. The 2015 Asian cup quarter final match that Iran played Iraq is one of those matches that Iranians will not forget. It won’t be forgotten not because of Iraq but because of a man named Ben Williams who happened to be referring the match. A referee whose history had many question marks but who was missing the cardinal rule of refereeing, don’t determine the outcome of the match. Ben Williams issued a red card to an Iranian player for simulation after the player was pushed by the Iraqi keeper. Iran were reduced to ten men while the Iraqi keeper was not even spoken to. Iran’s ten men fought valiantly but could not hold on to the 1-0 lead. With ten on the field they came back twice from being down 2-1 and 3-1 to take the match to penalty kicks. The football gods did not favor Iran and on the day and Iran the favourites were knocked out.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Iranians. Having last won the Asian cup in 1976 Iranians were optimistic Carlos Queiroz, the Portuguese head coach of Iran, would guide Iran to the cup. It was not to be. Queiroz has done a fantastic job of turning the Iranian national team into the most professional side Iran has had but he is missing silverware. Although he has taken Iran to two consecutive world cups and has earned Iran respect on the international stage he has to make his mark by winning the Asian Cup. Today’s game will not only be to wash away that bitter pill but also to kick the Iranian engine into full speed.
On match day two for group D Iran face a surprising Vietnam with a victory assuring a round two spot for Iran. Vietnam on the other hand is fighting for survival after their last minute defeat to Iraq.
On match day one Iran steam rolled over lowly Yemen scoring five unanswered goals. The big question for most experts was whether Iran could avoid the fate of some of the other heavy weights of Asian football. Australia had lost to Jordan in their first match. South Korea had struggled to get past the Philippines. Iran laid all concerns to rest when they professionally saw off Yemen with seventy one percent possession and twenty to three shots on advantage.
Vietnam faced the 2007 Asian champions Iraq in their first match. The scoreline was expected to reflect a similar outcome to the Iran – Â Yemen match. Iraq was always seen as the team to challenge Iran for top spot in the group. Vietnam on the other hand had never performed at a high level football tournament. The Vietnamese were committed to earning respect.
Iraq had to come back twice from being behind and a last minute Iraqi free kick sealed the win for Iraq. A hard fought win by Iraq but Vietnamese football came out a winner having earned respect for their valiant effort.
Iran’s English Premier League star, Alireza Jahanbaksh, has also been deemed fit to play giving the team an extra boost.Â
It should be a thrilling match leading into match day three. Vietnam has earned respect and Carlos Queiroz expressed that respect in the pre-game press conference. â€œI had seen Vietnamâ€™s matches in the buildup to the tournament and I thought they were a good side but after watching their performance against Iraq, I have to say they are a very good side,â€ he said.
Iran started their Asian cup campaign with a five goal trashing of lowly Yemen. It took twelve minutes to see Iran’s opener and perhaps those were Yemen’s best twelve minutes of the match.
Prior to Iran’s first goal commentators were wondering if this was yet another unexpected result at the Asian Cup after Australia’s loss to Jordan and South Korea’s close call against the Philippines. Iran though wasn’t having any of that.
Sardar Azmoun’s shot from twenty yards out was spilled by the Yemeni keeper and Taremi pounced on the rebound to put Iran up by a goal. It took another eleven minutes before the second though a Ashkan Dejagah free kick that came off the post and into the keepers back to bounce into the goal.
The Iranian team didn’t relax after the second even though at that point it did seem like the three points were in the bag. Before the first half was over a third was converted by Taremi.
The second half story was more of the same with Iran scoring through Azmoun and Raman Ghoddos. A sixth goal was inches away but Mehdi Torabi’s long range shot bounced off the post and away from goal.
A very good result by team Iran but this result should not be seen as anything other than a professional team against a team that was truly lacking the resources to compete. Next up for Iran is Vietnam and in addition to the three points Iran have to make sure that they don’t pick up too many yellow cards or any reds that could impact the final group game against Iraq.
Iran’s quest for the elusive Asian Cup begins on Monday against Yemen. Iran are playing their last tournament with Carlos Queiroz as head coach and for Iranians it is either Champions or bust.
The last time Iran won the Asian Cup was in 1976 when Iran hosted the tournament. Revolution and war interrupted the development of the team but in 1996 the Iranian national team roared back to the top of Asian football. Coincidently that was the first time the UAE hosted the Asian tournament.
Expectations for the first game are that Iran should win relatively easily. Yemen have never been at a competitive team and with the country in turmoil it is difficult to see how they would have been given the resources to develop.
Iran and Yemen have played two previous times. Once in the 1994 Asian Games where Iran won 4-0 and the second time was a 2012 international friendly in which Iran also came out victorious 2-1. However those two matches may not have had a full strength national team and certainly were before Carlos Queiroz.
The Queiroz era of Iranian football has propelled Iran to the top of Asian football and brought discipline to the team. Respectable performances at both Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018 have Iranian expectations in the stratosphere.
Iran has played in fourteen Asian cup tournaments and has scored 119 goals while conceding 45. Out of 62 games Iran has won 37, tied 18 and lost only 7.
Yemen will have a difficult opening game and anything short of a Iranian win is unacceptable to Iranian fans. Expect Iran on the attack and Yemen to rely on counter attacks. This is an an Asian David versus Goliath and in this case David is virtually guaranteed of defeat at the hands of the Iranian Goliath.
Kick off time
Tehran Time: 19:30 New York Time: 11:00 UAE local time: 20:00