Champs crash as Korea DPR held
© AFP

Reigning AFC Asian Cup champions Iraq have little room for error after commencing their campaign with a 2-1 defeat against neighbours Iran in yet another high-intensity encounter at Qatar 2011. It was a different story in the earlier game where South Africa 2010 finalists Korea DPR had to settle for a scoreless draw against United Arab Emirates.

The match
Iraq 1-2 Iran, Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium, Doha
Younis Mahmoud 13 (Iraq); Gholam Reza Rezaei 42’, Eman Mobali 84’ (Iran)
The last two teams to make their opening bow at Qatar 2011 produced a thriller befitting the deep-seated rivalry between these two neighbours. Early pressure from the champions paid dividends as goalscoring hero from the 2007 final, Younis Mahmoud, poked home from close range following Emad Mohammed’s header across the face of goal. However, Afshin Ghotbi's charges equalised three minutes before the interval with Andranik Teymourian provided a neat pass for Gholam Reza Rezaei to score. Iran could lay claim to having the better goalscoring opportunities in an entertaining second stanza and Eman Mobali collected a winner eight minutes from time to send the large Iranian contingency on hand into ecstasy.

The surprise
Korea DPR 0-0 United Arab Emirates, Qatar Sports Club Stadium, Doha
With the experience gained at South Africa 2010, Korea DPR looked on paper to be favourites but in the end it was Srecko Katanec’s United Arab Emirates who had by far the better of proceedings. Indeed but for some profligacy in front of goal the Gulf side would have collected three invaluable points. Yet it was the Koreans who spurned the best opening of the game as Hong Yong-Jo cracked his sixth minute penalty against the crossbar following a foul on star striker Jong Tae-Se.

The star
Eman Mobali, Iran
Experienced Iran midfielder Eman Mobali has long been renowned for his dynamic free-kicks and while his late winner against Iraq was no classic, his strike sets up Team Melli to top the group. A swerving curling ball played in from the right flank speed past defenders and attackers alike before leaving red-faced Iraq goalkeeper Mohammed Kassid grasping at thin air as the ball hit the net.

Memorable moment
History fails to repeat
Hong Yong Jo has experience at scoring from the penalty spot under pressure having done so in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier against arch-rivals Korea Republic some two years ago. However just six minutes into Korea DPR’s first AFC Asian Cup match in 19 years the experienced forward could only rattle the crossbar with his effort.

The stat
32 –
The total number of wins recorded by Iran in the AFC Asian Cup. The three-time winners are well clear of their nearest challengers with Korea Republic having now posted 24 victories.

What they said
"The game was complicated for us because of the rivalry between the two sides and also it was the first match of the tournament, while Iraq are the defending champions. I would like to dedicate this victory to the families who lost their relatives in the air crash [on Sunday in Iran]. The players tried their best to get the win as a sign of condolence for those families. Football is only a sport and if we can do something special then we are happy about that, Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi.

“We missed too many chances and they also have a good goalkeeper who played very well. We still have a good opportunity to qualify for the next round but we have to assert ourselves and try to be more confident in ourselves when we play our next game against Iraq because this is football and anything can happen, United Arab Emirates forward Ismaeil Matar.