Iran defeats Iraq 2-1 in Asian Cup opener
Midfielder Iman Mobali scored a late winner as Iran came from a goal down to beat archrival and defending champion Iraq 2-1 in its opening Group D match at the Asian Cup on Tuesday.
Iraq applied the early pressure and was rewarded in the 13th minute when striker Younis Mahmood headed home at the Al Rayyan stadium.
But Iran striker Gholam Reza Rezai scored an equalizer four minutes before the break and Mobali found the net with a free kick in the 84th minute after a foul by Iraq defender Samal Saeed.
It was a close, fast-paced match between the two Gulf neighbors, who have met five times in the Asian Cup.
''Every time these two teams meet in football, there's so much history and rivalry that it's difficult to have players focus on the game,'' Iranian coach Afshin Ghotbi said, adding that Tuesday's match was a complex affair.
''Not only because it was Iran against Iraq. It was also the first match of the tournament and against the defending champion,'' Ghotbi said. ''We tried hard to de-emphasize the result and focus on the way we want to play football.''
Iraq dominated the first 30 minutes, but Iran rallied as the first half progressed and controlled much of the second half, enjoying plenty of possession.
''It was an exciting match and both teams worked very hard,'' Iraq coach Wolfgang Sidka said. ''It was 50-50 (and) a good result for Iran. We have lost three points.
''Iran played very tough ... what I missed from our game is more ball possession and movement. It's hard to do if the other team puts a lot of pressure on.''
Ghotbi said Iran started the match under a lot of stress, but regrouped after equalizing and was better organized in the second half.
''The game was very tight,'' Ghotbi said. ''Iraq is a difficult team to play. They have strong individual players, and fighters, in all positions. That's why they won the tournament last time.''
North Korea and United Arab Emirates drew 0-0 in the day's other Group D game.
Iran and Iraq first met at the Asian Cup in 1972 in Thailand, with Iran winning 2-0. Four years later, host Iran beat Iraq by the same score. Their next meeting came 20 years later in the United Arab Emirates, with Iraq coming out on top 2-1. In the 2000 tournament in Lebanon, Iran won 1-0.
Iraq: Mohammed Gassid, Ali Hussain Erhaima, Salam Shaker (Ahmed Ibrahim, 45), Samal Saeed, Qusay Muneer (Mustafa Kareem, 87), Nashat Akram, Hawar Mohammed, Mahdi Kareem, Emad Mohammed (Samer Saeed, 82), Alaa Abdul-Zahra, Younis Mahmood.
Iran: Mehdi Rahmati, Ehsan Haji Safi, Hadi Aghili, Mohammad Nosrati, Jalal Hosseini, Javad Nekounam, Andranik Teymourian, Iman Mobali, Gholam Reza Rezai, Masoud Shojaei, Mohammad Gholami.