Iraq down UAE for the second successive win at Gulf Cup.
Iraq came at the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup with a depleted side and within a span of two matches the ‘Lions of Mesopotamia’ have become the frontrunners for the title after winning back-to-back matches at the iconic Khalifa International Stadium.
The Srecko Katanec’s side – who shocked hosts Qatar in their first match – outclassed two-time champions UAE 2-0 yesterday to claim their second successive victory in the event and consolidate their chances for a place in the semi-finals.
Yesterday, Iraq looked even impressive than their win against Qatar, with their key players returning to the national side after the Al-Shorta Club assignment. Coach Katanec – who complained of training with just 11 players prior to the event – got the cushion to make eight changes for the match.
In addition, Iraq also enjoyed strong crowd support with the game witnessing an attendance of over 17,000 spectators.
While UAE coach Lambertus van Marwijk hinted at playing aggressive football in the game, it was Iraq who pushed their Emirati opponents the most in both the sessions.
First-half goals from striker Alaa Abbas (6th) and captain Alaa Abdulzahra (37th) proved enough for the three-time champions to grab a win and sit on top of Group A with 6 points.
After denying a couple of moves from the UAE, Iraq scored early with Abbas comfortably beating Emirati goalkeeper Mohamed Hasan after a cross by captain Alaa Abdulzahra – who joined the national team for the game after missing the opener.
UAE looked for a leveler and their striker Ali Saleh created a chance, breaking free from the left and could only be stopped from a foul by Iraqi goalkeeper Mohammed Farhan, who was handed a yellow card by referee Alexandre Boucaut for his rash play.
Farhan, however, did well to avoid a goal, punching off the raging free-kick from Ali Mabkhout – the hat-trick scorer in a 3-0 win against Yemen.
Midfielder Khalfan Mubarak got a chance to score for the UAE in the 28th minute but his shot wasn’t good enough to trouble Farhan.
Three minutes later, Iraqi midfielder Amjad Attwan gave the charging fans hopes of a second goal with a fierce hit from a long-range, which goalkeeper Saleh had to stop diving on his right.
With 10 minutes left in halftime, UAE stepped up efforts of a leveler and it was when Mabkhout was cautioned for a foul against defender Amjed Attwan.
But before the UAE could do any damage, Iraq made it 2-0 through captain Abdulzahra, who headed the ball into the cage off a brilliant cross from Ali Adan, which flew between the two UAE defenders.
Looking to bounce back in the game, UAE made several attacks in the second half but was unable to beat the solid Iraqi defense.
In fact, Iraq came close to extend their lead when striker Mohannad Ali – who came off the bench to replace first goal scorer Abbas – got a good chance in the 63rd minute following an error by the UAE defender but he gifted the ball to goalkeeper Saleh.
With 15 minutes left, UAE made several attempts, which goalkeeper Farhan canceled out with outstanding blocks.
But when UAE was looking dangerous, Iraq made a solid move to win a penalty in the 83rd minute.
Substitute Mohammed Ridha was about to unleash a header from a close range off a cross from Amjed Attwan, and a challenge from Al Nasr defender Khalifa Mubarak prompted the referee to consult the VAR, which suggested a foul.
However, UAE’s goalkeeper Hasan made a diving save on his left from an attempt by Adnan.
Iraq will next play Yemen in their final pool match on Monday.
By Fawad Hussain I The Peninsula