The quarterfinal between Iraq versus Iran was never going to be a run-of-the-mill affair.
Coming into the match, Iraq had only beaten their arch rivals once in their previous five AFC Asian Cup meetings losing the other four.
Iran, on the other hand, had exited the AFC Asian Cup at the quarterfinal stage in 2011 and 2007, so something had to give.
The two sides couldn’t be more contrasting. The Iranian’s well-drilled, experienced and obdurate against a youthful, energetic but inconsistent Iraqi team.
What Iran and Iraq served up was an incredible encounter between the two Asian rivals. It’s safe to say that this has been the game of the tournament so far. It may be clichéd to say but this clash had it all.
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1. Dejagah and Gharouri had the freedom of the right flank:
Team Melli had a lot of joy down the right hand side even when they were down to 10-men. Ashkan Dejagah, before he was subbed off, and Vouria Ghafouri were constantly getting into good positions and tormenting Iraqi fullback Dhurgham Ismail. Ismail wasn’t helped by his teammate Abdul Zahra. Zahra’s unwillingness to track back exposed Ismail to constant two on one situations and the Iraqi defender was struggling to cope.
One wonders if Iran would have created further clear cut chances if they had pushed more men into the box when they had a full complement of players on the pitch.
As for Ismail, he would eventually have the last laugh.
2. Ben Williams – Spotlight on the official:
Iran versus Iraq is always going to be a tasty affair, so not only did the match need a strong official it needed a smart one too. Ben Williams for the most part did his job well but he made a huge call at the end of the first half sending off Mehrdad Pooladi.
Before the incident, the Australian official consistently looked to play advantage recognizing quickly that both sides were not above from committing cynical tackles to break-up the rhythm of the game.
Indeed, it was an advantage played by Williams that led to the opening goal. Ashkan Dejagah was fouled just inside the Iraqi half but the Australian official was quick to spot Vouria Ghafouri picking up the ball and charging down the right. The fullback’s cross invited Sardar Azmoun to power a thumping header into the back of the net.