Iraq set up Aussie showdown
The 2007 champions finished second in Group D, behind rivals Iran, but they will be the underdogs to upset an Australian team out for revenge after Iraq defeated them 3-1 on the way to Asian Cup glory four years ago.
Iraq have not hit the heights of last time round, but they did not need to be great to see off North Korea in front of just over 4,000 at Al-Rayyan Stadium, making for a low-key atmosphere for what was a high-stakes encounter. The holders made three changes from the side that laboured to a 1-0 victory over the United Arab Emirates and it was one of them, midfielder Kerrar Jasim, who fired the champions ahead on 22 minutes. It turned out to be the winner.
"We deserved this victory. We especially played very well in the first half," Iraq's German coach Wolfgang Sidka said. "In the last 20 minutes North Korea did everything to get back in the match so we lost the possession of the ball, but not too much."
Playing Australia on Saturday will pit Sidka against his compatriot Holger Osieck. "I know him very well, we know each other well. It's two German coaches against each other, though both of us would prefer to play against each other later in the tournament."
North Korean coach Jo Tong-Sop said it had been a "psychological blow" to concede an early goal and said it might be time to ditch the defensive tactics. "We got good experience during this tournament. We learned that defence is important, but to attack is even more important," he said. "We will try to play a more attacking game in future."
Asked if his job was in peril, he said: "I take responsibility as the head coach. I cannot say yes or no."
The Koreans, cheered on by about 250 fans - all men wearing shirts and ties - came into the match knowing that they needed to win the game to go through instead of the holders. But rather than attack, they were content to play a patient waiting game. Their coach Jo Tong-Sop said they had abandoned the 5-3-2 formation they deployed at the FIFA World Cup™ to a theoretically more attacking 4-4-2.
However there was no immediate sign it had made the Koreans - who coming into the game had yet to score a goal in the tournament - any more potent. Iraq were within inches of taking a lead with the first chance of the game shortly after the quarter-hour mark when defender Samal Saeed headed down a corner for striker Mustafa Kareem, who was lurking in the six-yard box. But Kareem, brought in to replace Ala'a Abdulzehra, succeeded only in lashing the ball against the bar.
Shortly after Iraq were ahead. Korea keeper Ri Myong-Guk was only able to parry Kareem's stinging shot into the path of Jasim, who fired into an open net to put Iraq on their way, silencing Korea's smartly dressed contingent.
It was not until 30 minutes in that North Korea had their first chance of the game. But forward Jong Tae-Se, who plays for German second division side VfL Bochum, failed to get hold of the ball and the opportunity was gone. The North were in disarray and in danger of losing their heads as they committed a series of crude fouls. Captain Hong Yong-Jo was booked for a particularly late challenge.
The ever-dangerous Kareem should have put his side 2-0 up on 37 minutes but he somehow volleyed over from close range as Iraq continued to press. Korea barely looked like scoring. Iraq might have expected the North to throw the kitchen sink at them after the break. The Koreans made a change just after half time, bringing off defender Ri Jun-Il for Pak Nam-Chol - another defender.
They now had two players on the pitch called Pak Nam-Chol and reverted to what looked like a three-man defence. The North were marginally more threatening after that, but they created only one real chance - Jong firing straight at Iraqi keeper Mohammed Kassid - as the game and the tournament slipped away from them.
They go home with just a single point and no goals after a 0-0 draw with UAE and a 1-0 defeat to group winners Iran.