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Asia Cup 2019: Iran and Iraq produce strangely thrilling goalless draw Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Asia Cup 2019: Iran and Iraq produce strangely thrilling goalless draw

Saman Ghoddos of Iran holds off Hussein al-Saedi of Iraq [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 January, 2019

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The energy on display between the old rivals showed Asia's real football is played in Mesopotamia and Persia.
There are very few games that can produce this sort of atmosphere.

There is a true love-hate relationship among these fans. Their shared history involves wars, honour, culture and politics. It is, of course, Iran vs Iraq, the clásico of Middle Eastern football.
Not for nothing, this game has been sold out for weeks, and provided a truly fully-packed stadium - the first in the competition so far.

The game was set to finalise group D of the 2019 Asian Cup, and while both teams had already qualified, there was plenty at stake.
The match kicked off with terrific pace from both sides, a handful of goal-scoring options and tremendous singing from the stands. 
Both goalkeepers, Jalal Hachem and Alireza Beiranvand, were sharply focused, keeping clean sheets for the first 20 minutes.
In the 21st minute, Iran won a free kick in a perfect spot, on the edge of the box after a foul by Humam Tariq on Omid Ebrahimi. A mini-brawl erupted but Uzbek referee Rashvan Irmatov calmed things down. Saman Ghoddos' strike failed to puncture the wall, and the game continued, goalless.

Things were heating up between Iran’s coach, Carlos Queiroz, and Iraqi star Ali Adnan, who exchanged words throughout the whole first half as Adnan ran back and forth on the left flank, combining attacking and defensive efforts. 

Play was halted a few more times due to arguments and searing tackles, but the pace remained fast and thrilling. The Iraqi fans sang "I-raq, Khu-ri-a!" ["Free Iraq"], as Team Melli fans answered "Iran, Iran, Iran!" 

The second half opened with a more calm and refined display as players settled in to the game and the tempo of play slowed - but the crowd continued to push and cheer as if the game had just started. Srečko Katanec made one change for Iran, putting Bashar Resan on in place of Ahmed Yassin.

Iraq's Mohanad Ali, the tournament's best player so far, was marked heavily by Majid Hosseini and barely got a look in at the ball, but when he did, he was dangerous for Iran. Nonetheless, his efforts weren't enough to save him as Katanec replaced him on the field with Alaa Abbas. 

The coach's move paid off. Abbas caught the Iranian defence unprepared, passed to Humam Tariq who lobbed in for Mahmoud Dawood who connected with a blinding header - making Beiranvand stretch to save it. 

This tumultuous battle ended in a 0-0 draw. Both teams have qualified for the next round, but reminded the rest of the continent where the quality football is played - Mesopotamia and Persia.
In the group's second game, Vietnam beat Yemen 2-0, concluding a hard campaign for Yemen, who finished with a 0-10 goal difference and three losses. 

Group D is completed, the Middle Eastern Clásico is behind us, and now the stage is set for the "Kentucky Derby" of Middle Eastern football: Saudi Arabia against Qatar in the final act of Group F.

And then the knockout stage begins...

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.

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