Iraq sealed their place in the next round of the Asian Cup U23 with a narrow victory over Jordan. It was a tense affair but Iraq dominated for the majority of the game. They came close on many occasions but the lack of killer instinct in front of goal failed to make it a comfortable win.
The first half was an open affair, where Iraq played comfortably in midfield and Bashar was able to roam in the opposition half untouched. The best chance fell to Ibrahim Bayesh, who’s low shot narrowly missed the target despite it being an easy chance. It was Bashar’s pass that found Atwan, whose cut back for Bayesh created the opportunity. Despite all the position, Iraq were unable to take a lead into the second half.
Jordan struggled to cope with the fluidity of Iraq’s attack, where Bashar and Hussain Ali interchanged positions throughout. This made it almost impossible to track their runs. Safaa once again proved himself a solid defensive midfielder, where he intercepted any opportunities that came through the midfield. Knowing there’s a disciplined midfielder capable of winning the ball back is a dream come true for the attackers. It allows them the freedom of moving up the pitch without much concern from leaving gaps exposed behind them. Safaa Hadi is turning out to be a modern day Claude Makélélé.
The second half proved identical to the first. Iraq dominating once again but struggling to find the killer pass to split the defence. However, their breakthrough came through a Bashar Resan strike from 30 yards out. The midfielder’s shot bounced in front of the goalkeeper and made it difficult to save. The goalkeeper’s parry wasn’t strong enough and Iraq took a deserved lead.
Ahmed Basil kept Iraq in the lead on the 84th minute after a superb save from a strong header. However, Jordan piled the pressure from the incoming corner. The cross caused havoc in the box, with the ball cleared off the line. In the final moments, Jordan continued to attack but Iraq held on tight despite a few scares. In the last attack of the game, Iraq missed two one-on-one chances. Fortunately, their abysmal finishing did not come back to haunt them.
There needs to be a tactical adjustment in this Iraq side. Players are struggling with the lack of structure and positioning across the pitch, which has resulted in players frequently entering similar zones and failing to utilise the width of the pitch. This is particularly evident on the counter attack, where Iraq have broken and failed to punish the opposition.
Overall, it was an acceptable performance but better opposition would have put Iraq in a much more difficult position. However, two wins and a draw has proven enough for Iraq in the group stage and we will see who we face in the quarter finals. Malaysia, who Iraq beat 4-1, have secured second spot in the group and will join Iraq in the next round. They go through after an impressive victory over Saudi Arabia.
Man Of The Match – Bashar Resan