Iraq one step closer to emulating 2007 Asian Cup fairytale

Iraq one step closer to emulating 2007 Asian Cup fairytale

January 24, 2024 at 4:09 PM
Iraq have been one of the standout teams at the tournament in Qatar
Iraq have been one of the standout teams at the tournament in Qatar. Photo: KARIM JAAFAR / AFP
Source: AFP

Free-scoring Iraq hope to emulate their heroes of 2007 by going all the way at the Asian Cup after storming through the group stage with three wins from three.

Having sprung a shock by beating Japan, Iraq celebrated finishing top of Group D with a last-minute 3-2 win over 10-man Vietnam, who were already eliminated.

Aymen Hussein netted twice including the winner deep in stoppage time in a frantic match and is the leading scorer in Qatar with five goals.

Japan finished second in the group after a 3-1 win over Indonesia, who look unlikely to progress as one of the best third-placed teams.

Iraq's perfect nine points in the group phase trumps the five they picked up at the same stage in 2007 on the way to their first and only continental title.

They defeated three-time champions Saudi Arabia 1–0 in the final in Jakarta, the fairytale triumph sparking huge celebrations back in deeply fractured Iraq.

The current crop of players remembers it well.

"I was watching this game at the time with my family," midfielder Osama Rashid said in Qatar when asked about the historic win.

"We were very happy and went outside to celebrate with friends. Many people speak about these moments," said Rashid, who scored in the 3-1 win over Indonesia in Doha.

'Going to be hard'

The Spaniard Jesus Casas was named coach in late 2022 and Iraq promptly won the eight-team Gulf Cup on home soil.

Rashid said that meant the players "know the feeling of winning a cup and how they can make the Iraqi people happy".

Upsetting the odds once again in Qatar would make "a lot of people -- 40 million Iraqi people -- very happy", said Casas, a former assistant to Luis Enrique with Spain's national team.

Having already topped the group, Iraq rested players for Wednesday's match with Vietnam at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium and fell behind when Bui Hoang Viet Anh poked home off a Khuat Van Khang free-kick.

That would be Khuat's last attacking involvement -- he was sent off in first-half stoppage time for a second yellow card.

Defender Rebin Sulaka equalised immediately after the restart with a header from a corner and Hussein continued his fine form to put the Iraqis ahead with a powerful header with less than 20 minutes left.

Hussein squandered a chance to extend the lead when he struck a penalty against the post.

It looked like he would live to regret it when Nguyen Quang Hai got behind the Iraqi back line to score on the stroke of the 90th minute, making it 2-2.

But Vietnam gave away another penalty in the 11th minute of added time and this time Hussein did not miss.

Defeated coach Philippe Troussier -- the Frenchman who guided Japan to the Asian crown in 2000 -- said Iraq "could be a great candidate for the title".

But Casas insisted on looking only to the next match, for which their opponent is yet to be determined.

"We can win," he said.

"But I know it's going to be hard."

AFP photo