By Samindra Kunti in Abu Dhabi
January 8 – In a game of nerves, overconfidence and plenty of naive defending Iraq broke Vietnamese hearts with a last-minute free kick from Ali Adnan to win a topsy-turvy Group E game 3-2.
Hoang Trong’s rash tackle on Ali Adnan within the first 60 seconds set the tone for the opening stages in which Vietnam, whose back three morphed into a five-man rearguard, were on the back foot. Goalkeeper Dang Lam tipped a low attempt from Adnan wide and Ali Atiyah’s header sailed over.
Iraq dominated ball possession for most of the game at around the 60% mark, but it was Vietnam who struck first, taking the lead in the 22nd minute with a fortuitous goal. Phan Duc dispossessed Iraq in the midfield, Quang Hai played in ‘Messi Vietnam’ Cong Phuong with a wonderful through ball which deflected off Atiyah beyond the onrushing goalkeeper Jalal Hachim and into the back of the net for an own goal. The Iraqis were stunned, surprised by the pace at which the Vietnames counter attacked, in particular from right wing back Do Manh.
But it was naive defending in the 33rd minute that let Vietnam down. Do Manh dawdled on the ball and Mohanad Kadhim struck with a low shot across the face of goal.
The inexperienced Vietnamese, with seven of last year’s U-23 Asian Cup players in the starting eleven, responded with even more pace. Vietnam punished Iraq’s poor defending again in the 42nd minute when Atiyah, Iraq’s Achilles heel, failed to prevent Cong Phuong from bundling the ball over the line following a quick incursion from Hoang Trong.
On the touchline, Iraq coach Srecko Katanec cut a frustrated figure: had his Iraq underestimated their opponents? Vietnam radiated the conviction they had talked about leading up to the game and began stringing dangerous attacks together in the last ten minutes of the first half.
How both teams – Vietnam, the youngest outfit in the tournament and Iraq under construction with recently appointed coach Katanec – would react to defining moments in the game was always going to be key for their tournament ambitions.
After the break Vietnam continued to sit back looking for the counter attack but leaving the initiative to Iraq who equalised after another lamentable mix-up in the Vietnamese defense. Goalkeeper Dang Lam kept out Kadhim’s downward header, but in the ensuing melee substitute Human Faraj was first to the ball to score.
On the hour mark Vietnam’s coach Park Hang-seo changed attacking tactics replacing the speed of Cong Phuong for the aggression and ariel presence of Ha Chinh. Substitute defender Doan Hau was also sent on to further shore up the defense as the Vietnamese tired. It was a tactic that ultimately backfired.
In the last minute of regular time Adnan won the match for Iraq with a fine set piece to turn the result on its head and give Iraq all three points.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1579674087labto1579674087ofdlr1579674087owedi1579674087sni@o1579674087fni1579674087