Asian Cup 2019: Goalkeeper Ali Reza rescues Iran against Iraq
The Group D Asian Cup clash was certainly not for the faint-hearted.
By Rituraj Borkakoty
Published: Thu 17 Jan 2019, 9:58 PM
As the 15,000 fans danced and sang their team songs at the Al Maktoum Stadium, players on the pitch fought for every ball. The tackles kept flying, keeping the Uzbek referee Ravshaan Irmatov on his toes.
This Iran-Iraq Group D Asian Cup clash was certainly not for the faint-hearted. Both the teams may have already qualified for the next round, but it seemed they were playing for their lives.
The only thing this intense battle lacked was a goal. But it was Iraq which came closest to scoring in the 76th minute. If not for Iran goalkeeper Ali Reza's magnificent save in the 76th minute, Iraqi substitute Alaa Abbas would have clinched the first spot for his team.
In the end, this goalless draw earned Iran the top spot in Group D on goal difference as both teams finished with seven points.
The early stages in the first half of this eagerly awaited clash produced scrappy play from both teams.
With both sets of fans making unbelievable noise, the two teams were locked in a highly physical battle.
Iran did have the possession, but they couldn't really find the space in the middle of the park. The Iraqis chased every ball to win possession, but their rivals showed the better technique.
Then in the 12th minute, Iran made their first foray into Iraqi box. Unsurprisingly, it was Iran's star striker Sardar Azmoun that had the first real chance of the game.
But the Rubin Kazan star failed to meet the cross from the left flank.
Iran eventually found their rhythm, dictating the pace of the game with their incisive passing in the midfield. Such was their dominance that Iraq went deeper and deeper into their own half, throwing bodies at the ball and using the long ball to find the isolated Mohanad Ali Kadhim.
Then against the run of play, Iraq's Ahmed Yaseen Gheni found space on the edge of the rival box, but his left-footer missed the target in the 34th minute. Three minutes later, Ali Adnan Al Tameemi's freekick found Mohanad in the Iranian box, but the latter's header failed to hit the target. Those two chances lifted Iraq's spirits, though, as they finally began to enjoy some possession.
But it was Iran that had the best chance in the dying minutes of the first half. In the 44th minute, Alireza Jahanbakhsh found space inside the box, but his right-footer flew over the cross-bar.
Iraq came out with a positive approach in the second half as they dominated the midfield. Never losing their defensive organisation, the Iraqis were beginning to threaten their rivals much more than they did in the first 45 minutes.
Mohanad found space in the 64th minute, as he turned before launching a left-footer from outside the box, but it went straight to Ali Reza. Then in the 76th minute, Ali Reza's reflex save denied Alaa Abbas whose header from a Humam's Tareq cross threatened to break the deadlock.
South Korea 2 China 0
Kyrgyzstan 3 Philippines 1
Iran 0 Iraq 0
Vietnam 2 Yemen 0