January 15 – In an energetic game at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Doha, Iraq were victorious 3-1 over underdogs Indonesia as both sides fought to join Japan at the top of Group D.
Equipped wth the youngest squad in the competition, Indonesia coach Tae-Yong Shin opted to entrust a youthful attacking line for his side’s opener, starting young talents Struick (20) and Ferdinan (19) against a stern Iraqi defence.
Meanwhile, Iraq entrusted talented youngster Mohanad Ali to lead the line, and proved he had all the makings of being his nation’s next superstar with a rampant display before being subbed in the 59th minute.
The match begun with an electric opening which saw Indonesian youngster Ferdinan strike the crossbar just four minutes from kickoff with a looping effort from outside the box.
Both teams, amped by the occasion and a roaring crowd, took to the opening ten minutes played at a ferocious pace. Indonesia have not qualified for the tournament since joint-hosting in 2007. Their opponents are very familiar with the competition, having featured on nine occasions, lifting the trophy on Indonesian soil in 2007.
Pressure was beginning to build after Iraq struck the crossbar from a chance generated by a corner. Both teams had now come within inches of grabbing an important early opener.
After picking up a yellow card two minutes into the match, Indonesia defender Elkan Baggott, who also plays for English Championship hopefuls Ipswich Town, made up for his early error with an outstanding last-ditch sliding tackle to block Iraqi striker Mohanad Ali’s point-blank effort on goal.
Iraq quickly grew into the game, beginning to dominate possession and create attacking chances inside the first quarter of an hour. Under immense pressure from the relentless Iraqi attack led by wonder boy Mohanad Ali, the Indonesian defence finally buckled in the 16th minute, courtesy of an Ali strike that put his side in a well-deserved lead.
End-to-end action persisted as Indonesia opted to chase an equaliser, unafraid to commit bodies forward in a bid to get back on level terms. As the first half played out, Indonesia eased into the game and regained composure.
Ferdinan put his team back on level terms with a thumping strike into the top left corner to finish a fantastic team move. The jinking run and pinpoint cross from Yakob Sayuri deserved as much glory as the close-range finish from Ferdinan as the two young Indonesians combined to put their team back in the fight.
The equaliser reinvigorated the Indonesian support, who were deafening in the buildup to half time as their team chased an opportunity to get in front.
But it was Iraq who regained the lead in the last breath of the first half via Osamah Rashid’s conversion of a close range effort.
Almost immediately after the teams returned to action for the second half, Iraq had a goal disallowed by VAR. It eas a tight offside call but the referee was justified in chalking off a tidy finish from Al-Ammari as Mohanad Ali roamed offside in the buildup to the goal.
Tae Yong Shin’s spirited side were lucky to escape. Smelling blood, Iraq’s pace continued to quicken as the second half progressed, retaining the majority of possession and creating a wealth of attacking chances.
After a 20-minute lull where the ball rarely escaped midfield, Iraqi substitute Ayman Hussein finished in style with a right-footed volley powerfully struck into the top right corner.
Controversially replacing fan-favourite Mohanad Ali, Iraq manager Jesus Casas’s faith in Hussein paid off as his finish settled the game. His 75th-minute strike earned his side a safety goal as full time loomed, simplifying Iraq’s journey to the final whistle.
Hussein’s performance has given Casas a selection headache going into the next fixture as he must weigh up which striker to opt for.
Iraq’s two-goal win places them joint-top of Group D and puts them in a healthy position to achieve qualification into the next round.
Indonesia midfielder Justin Hubner said: “I am very proud of the team. I think we worked really hard, of course the result wasn’t good but I could see improvement from the last few games. We can only go forwards from here- we worked really hard and the result was unfortunate.”
Iraq next play tournament favourites Japan in what would be a statement win for the Lions of Mesopotamia.
Meanwhile, Indonesia will play Vietnam in a south-east Asia derby on the same day, with both sides looking to scrape together their first points of the Asian Cup campaign. As the lowest ranked teams in the group, both Vietnam and Indonesia provided stern competition for higher-ranked teams Japan and Iraq, and will both feel they deserved more.
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