Qatar 1 Iraq 0
By Paul Nicholson in Abu Dhabi
January 22 – ‘We & the Nation of Pride are Fine’ reads the side of the Qatari team bus in the UAE at the Asian Cup. After tonight’s 1-0 win over Iraq they are doing much better than that.
Neither Qatar nor Iran had let in a goal in the competition before tonight’s last 16 match-up. In what was an intense game that had plenty of goalmouth incident at both ends, both could easily have let in five or six.
Qatar’s last match against Saudi Arabia had been seemingly devoid of emotion until the celebrations of the final whistle, tonight was a completely different affair. Added to by a Iraq team that always plays with its emotions close to the surface.
It was also a contrast in styles. Qatar played with longer passing and movement that was always looking to find space and the pace of goalscoring machine Ali Almoez, marauding alongside the razor sharpness of Afif Akram Hassan and the impressive Ali Adnan Al-Tameemi and Hasan Al Haydos.
Iraq play a much tighter game, preferring to run at players with the ball at their feet and keep their passing and movement much closer and dynamic, always with the aim of feeding their imposing striker Mohannad Ali Kadhim.
The opening exchanges saw Qatar almost take the lead on four minutes. A rapid move down the right saw a cross to Asian Player of the Year Hassan Abdelkarim who had arrived in the attack from left back. His side foot volley cannoned into the bar.
Three minutes later Almoez powered through two defenders but the ball ran away before he could get a toe on it. Iraq’s best efforts on goal were coming through Al Haydos who had a shot saved and headed over the bar inside the first 20 minutes.
Al Haydos should have scored on 23 minutes. Dispossessing Afif deep inside his own half he was through on goal only to be denied by Saad Al Sheeb’s brilliant dive at the on rushing strikers’ feet.
As the half progressed Iran took control of central midfield, pushing and prodding their way forward only for the final pass to lack the precision to create a real threat. Qatar had to be content with providing their biggest threats through their blistering counter attacks.
The second half saw the majority Iraqi crowd (attendance was 14,701) turn up the intensity. The teams responded.
A ball over the top to Afif saw the Qatari starlet run away from his marker but his touch was unually too hard to allow him to get a shot away. But minutes later the game changed.
Qatar won a free kick on the left side of the box and Bassam Al Rawi stepped up to hit the ball over the wall and into bottom left hand side of Jalal Hassan Hachim’s goal.
Iraq coach Srecko Katanec wasted no time putting on a second striker Mohammed Dawood, giving his increasingly dominant midfielders a second forward to aim at as they again increased the pace of their forward movement with Bashar Resan Bonyan and Hussein Al-Saedi prominent.
It wasn’t going to be their night. Qatar’s defense held out the last 15 minutes where they barely got out of their half and the four minutes of added time where they defended furiously.
It was a win that has catapulted this Qatari team into unlikely outsiders for the title. Their celebrations did not match the euphoria of their win over Saudi, thankfully. The Iraqis were left devastated and tearful, their fans stunned into silence.
Qatar’s next opponents will be South Korea. Like the bus says, this young Qatari team is doing just fine.
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