AFC Asian Cup: Iraq holds Iran in goalless draw

Iraq held on to the ball for longer spells and looked the better team in the second half of the AFC Asian Cup Group D encounter.

Iraq's Mohanad Ali and Iran’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh in action in Dubai on Wednesday.   -  REUTERS

Iran facing Iraq on the football pitch is a timeless classic, a clash that could be billed as the El Classico of Asian football. While Wednesday's encounter at Dubai's Al Maktoum Stadium had little significance with relation to the points table, as both teams had already advanced to the knockouts.

This was a match of immense pride and respect.

The last time the two sides clashed at the Asian Cup was in 2015 when Iraq eliminated Iran in spectacular fashion through a tense penalty shootout that it won 7-6. Iran looked to avenge the loss but found no way past Iraq custodian Jalal Hassan Hachim and the two sides shared the spoils after a remarkable game of football.

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Iran's top-scorer in the tournament, Sardar Azmoun, came close to giving his side the lead with a little over 10 minutes, but the header failed to find the target.

Iran did the bulk of attacking but its forwards struggled to get past Iraq's burly defence.

Alireza Jahan Bhaksh made his first start after recovering from a knee injury and looked determined to make an impact. The winger, who plays for Premier League outfit Brighton and Hove Albion, had a chance to break the deadlock a few minutes from half-time but his attempt sailed well above the crossbar.

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Iraq held on to the ball for longer spells and looked the better team in the second half. The side began to make regular visits to the Iranian box through Humam Tareq Faraj on the right wing. Faraj combined well with striker Mohanad Ali Kadhim and nearly got the side the goal it was chasing.

Kadhim met Faraj's cross from the right with a looping header that forced a stunning save from Alireza Beiranvand. That was the closest Iraq got to scoring in what was an enthralling tie.

Iran topped Group D with seven points and is yet to concede a goal in the competition.

Iraq also finished with seven points, but it is in the second spot due to an inferior goal-difference. It will take pride from the fact that this is the second time the side has finished the group stages unbeaten.

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