There are very few games that can produce this atmosphere in the Middle East, or the world. Fans from both sides have a love and hate relationship. It involves wars, honor, culture and politics, and it creates the lowest noise you can think of out of a 15,000 seater: Iran-Iraq, the Clásico of Middle Eastern football.
Not for nothing, this game was sold out weeks prior, and turned in to a truly fully packed stadium - the first in the competition. As the game that concludes group D of the 2019 Asian Cup, between to two teams who already qualified, it had everything mentioned above, in it.
The match kicked off with terrific pace from both sides, handful of goal scoring options and tremendous singing in the stands. Both goalkeepers, Jalal Hachem and Alireza Beiranvand have started the game focused, and managed to keep their clean sheet in the first 20 minutes.
On the 21st minute, Iran won a free kick in a perfect spot, on the verge of the box after a foul by Humam Tariq on Omid Ebrahimi. A mini brawl started but Uzbek referee, Rashvan Irmatov has managed to calm things down. Saman Ghoddos couldn’t go through the wall, and the game continued.
Things were hitting up between Iran’s coach Carlos Queiroz and Iraq’s star Ali Adnan, who have exchanged words throughout the whole half when Adnan ran on the left flank back and fourth combining attacking & defensive efforts.
The match was stopped few times more due to arguments and harsh tackles, but the pace kept to be fast and thrilling . The Iraqi fans sang “I-raq, Khu-ri-a!” (Free Iraq), as Team Melli fans answered “Iran, Iran, Iran!”.
The first half ended in a 0:0 draw, but was exciting and eventful as the whole match.
The second half opened in a much more calmer ambiance from the players who played slower, but the crowd continued to push and cheer as if the game just started. Srečko Katanec made one change and put in Bashar Resan instead of Ahmed Yassin.
Iraqi Mohanad Ali, the tournament’s best player so far, was marked heavily by Majid Hosseini and barely touched the ball, but when he did - it became dangerous for Iran. Yet, Katanec decided to take him out and put in Alaa Abbas.
It made its impact. Abbas caught the Iranian defence unprepared, passed to Humam Tariq who lobbed in for Mahmoud Dawood who headed and made Beiranvand to stretch and save it.
In the end, amusingly, this major battle ended in a thrilling 0:0 draw. Both teams qualified to the next round, but reminded the rest of the continent where the quality football is played at - Mesopotamia and Persia.
On the second game of the group, Vietnam have beaten Yemen 2-0, in what concluded a hard campaign for Yemen with a 0-10 goal difference and three losses.
Group D is finished, the Middle Eastern Clásico is behind us, and now the stage is ready and prepared for the ‘Kentucky Derby’ of Middle Eastern football: Saudi Arabia against Qatar at the final act of group F before the knockouts.