Iran and Iraq battle for supremacy!
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.
Iran come into the match with Iraq having beaten Yemen 5-0 in their opening came followed by a 2-0 win over a surprisingly good Vietnam. Iraq on the other hand struggled to beat Vietnam in their opening match having to come back from behind twice before a sublime 90th minute strike by Ali Adnan. Iraq beat Yemen 3-0 in their second group match. Iran top the group with 6 points, 7 goals scored and 0 conceded while Iraq have 6 points, 5 scored and 2 conceded.
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.