Neighbours Iran and Iraq will renew Asian Cup acquaintances with much less on the line than in their dramatic 2015 encounter.
Top spot in Group D will be up for grabs in Dubai but, with both teams already sure of a spot in the last 16, the atmosphere at Al Maktoum Stadium promises to be relaxed.
That is in stark contrast to four years ago, when Iraq defeated Iran on penalties after a 3-3 draw in the quarter-finals, before losing to South Korea in the semis.
Long-serving Iran coach Carlos Queiroz is relishing what he expects to be an entertaining encounter on Wednesday.
“We are excited for the game because I am sure it will be a great game for both teams and for the fans of Iran and Iraq. So let’s enjoy and have some fun,” said the former Real Madrid boss.
“Nothing in football comes again. You never play the same two games, never the same competition twice, never make a simple training session two times in your life.
“So tomorrow is a new beginning, a new story, a new game. Something that the players, coaches, the referees must be ready to write another script about in the game.
“Of course we can’t forget that we’re in the Asian Cup, a difficult competition. Everybody comes here with dreams, and now it’s time for us to express ourselves.
“What happened in the past doesn’t win and lose games. It doesn’t have any influence on our state of mind in this game, we’re just here to enjoy good games.”
— #كأس_آسيا2019 (@afcasiancup_ar) January 12, 2019
Iraq coach Srecko Katanec expressed similar sentiments, telling reporters: “We need grow together more as a team, to be more compact, and I know of many things that we need to do to improve.
“It will be easier because we are already in the second round, so the players can play without pressure. I didn’t put any pressure [on them], they just need to try to do the things which we have talked about the past few days. If they do it, I am sure we will play a good game.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Iran – Saman Ghoddos
After coming off the bench to score in the 5-0 thumping of Yemen, Ghoddos started and set up the first of Sardar Azmoun’s brace in the 2-0 defeat of Vietnam. His ability to find the target and create chances could be key against their toughest opponents so far.
Iraq – Ali Adnan Kadhim
With a pair of goals to his name from the left-back position, Ali Adnan could play an influential role at both ends of the pitch. He may be faced with repelling the threat of Mehdi Taremi, who played on the right for Iran last time out.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– This is the seventh encounter between Iran and Iraq at the Asian Cup. Only one fixture has been played more frequently at the tournament (8 matches between South Korea and Kuwait).
– Iran have won four of their six previous Asian Cup encounters with Iraq (D1 L1, penalties excluded), scoring in all six of those encounters. However, their last encounter saw Iraq beat Iran on penalties in the quarter-finals of the 2015 edition (3-3 aet, 7-6 on pens).
– Iran are unbeaten in 19 group stage games at the Asian Cup (W15 D4), a run that stretches back to 1996, when they lost 2-1 to Iraq.
– Iraq will be looking to finish the group stages unbeaten for just the second time in the Asian Cup, last doing so in 2007 when they went on to win the tournament, defeating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final.
– Iran’s Sardar Azmoun is the first player to score three goals in the 2019 Asian Cup, he has already netted more than he did in the 2015 edition (2).
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