Iraq come into Saturday’s clash with Yemen as heavy favourites, but coach Srecko Katanec is taking nothing for granted after a scare against Vietnam in their Asian Cup opener.
Katanec’s men twice came from a goal down to triumph 3-2 against Vietnam, requiring a 90th-minute Ali Adnan winner to collect the three points and join Iran at the top of Group D.
And so, with memories of that meeting still fresh in his mind, Katanec is taking little comfort from next opponents Yemen’s 5-0 humbling at the hands of Iran.
The Iraq coach knows his side have the quality to record another win and move into the last 16, but he is guarding against complacency.
“We know the quality of the Yemen team and they will fight just like Vietnam did,” he said. “From the beginning, I’m sure they will be looking to score.
“I spoke to the players and told them to be very careful. We are the better team on paper, but football is strange and we will see how we fare against Yemen.”
Yemen boss Jan Kocian is confident his side will improve against Iraq, having learned their lesson in a tough opening fixture.
“We want to put this behind us,” he said. “We made individual mistakes against Iran and we have learned from them.
“It’s Yemen’s first time in a big tournament like the Asian Cup and we played the strongest team in our first match. We started very well but it’s not easy to play against a strong team like Iran. I know my team can play better.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Yemen – Abdulwasea Al-Matari
While Yemen conceded five against Iran, it is their failure to find the net at the other end that appears to provide their greatest hinderance. Abdulwasea Al-Matari hit a brace when Yemen last scored – and won – against Nepal last year.
Iraq – Ali Adnan
Ali Adnan is one of the continent’s most outstanding wing-backs and he has already left his mark on this tournament with a dramatic free-kick winner. He will hope for more joy against Yemen.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– This will be the first encounter at the Asian Cup between Yemen and Iraq.
– Yemen have scored just once in their previous nine international matches, failing to score in each of the past four.
– Iraq have scored two or more goals in four of their last five Asian Cup games, scoring 10 in total – as many as they had scored in their previous 11 in the competition.
– Yemen have lost seven of their past eight international games (W1), with their only win coming against Nepal in March 2018.
– Iraq’s Mohanad Ali Kadhim has scored four goals in six international matches, including Iraq’s first goal against Vietnam.
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