Iraq keep their dream alive
Iraq admit they were lucky to secure a last-gasp victory against the United Arab Emirates courtesy of an own goal to keep their the defence of their AFC Asian Cup title alive. The 2007 champions looked set to enter the final round of group games in a highly precarious position, with both teams twice hitting the woodwork in a game that looked to be heading to stalemate at the Al-Rayyan Stadium.
But as the clock ticked into a third minute of injury time, a cross by captain Younis Mahmoud was turned in by the unfortunate Walid Abbas to gift Iraq victory and suddenly put them within touching distance of the last eight.
No matter what happens in Wednesday's game between UAE and already-qualified Iran, the champions will go through if they beat or draw against a Korea DPR side who have only one point on the board in Group D after two games.
Iraq's German coach Wolfgang Sidka admitted his side were fortunate, but insisted teams make their own luck. "It was a little bit lucky but at the end of the day we tried our best to force our luck in the game," said the 56-year-old, who has had to fend off criticism from the Iraqi media about his team selection.
"In the first half we played very well and we controlled the ball for 30 minutes while UAE dominated for 10 minutes and they had some chances. In the second half we were attacking and they attacked as well so it was exciting stuff. We had three strikers up front and I believe that we were rewarded. Sometimes if you have bad luck, you must force your luck to get it back. I believe that today we managed to force our own luck and we did it with a fighting spirit."
Both sides had several chances in a game neither could afford to lose. UAE, who have been rejuvenated under Slovenian Srecko Katanec, had the better of the first period as Iraq struggled to get going.
The holders finally sprang to life late in the first half. Six minutes before the break Nashat Akram crashed the ball against the bar with a towering header, then Qusay Muneer unleashed a drive that rattled the upright as the two teams went in level at the break.
UAE, for whom forwards Ismaeil Matar and Ahmed Khalil were a constant threat, rattled the woodwork for a second time on the hour. Iraq then went straight up the other end and were denied a certain goal when Ala'a Abdulzehra's header, which looked destined for the net, was deflected wide by Khalid Sebil for a corner. The ball seemed destined not to go in, until Abbas's late, unfortunate intervention.
Sidka said his team would get straight back to the business of trying to retain the title they surprisingly won four years ago, making worldwide headlines at the time. "We must prepare for the next game and the good thing is that our chance to progress is in our own hands and I believe that we should expect a hard game against North Korea," he said.