Katanec’s team selection was leaked a few days prior to kickoff, with his starting XI posted all across the internet. His selection was a surprise to many, given how attacking it appeared to be. Iraq started with a back three of Ali Faez, Ahmed Ibrahim and Frans Putros, with Walid Salim and Ali Adnan providing width as wing backs. The midfield of Osama Rashid, Safaa Hadi allowed Ahmed Yasin, Hussain Ali and Muhanned Ali to lead the attack against a decent Vietnamese side.
It was a shocking start for the Lions of Mesopotamia, who were caught by an energetic Vietnamese team eager to impress on the world stage. Iraq struggled to cope with their midfield, and were overran early on. It was after only 24 minutes that Vietnam took the lead, when a pass split open the Iraqi defence, a calamitous error saw Ali Faez netting into his own net as he tried to clear from Phuong Cong Nguyen. Poor defending, but the goalkeeper was equally at fault for failing to control his box – it was a sign of things to come from Jalal Hassan. It was a shocking goal to concede and was completely down to a lack of communication.
Vietnam continued to dominate but it was Muhanned Ali who came to the rescue, when he picked up a loose ball and ran at the opposition defence on the 35th minute. He weaved passed two players and slotted calmly passed Dang Van Lam to equalise for Iraq. It was reminiscent of Younis Mahmoud and the striker’s stock continues to rise.
It didn’t last long before Vietnam retook the lead though, as they continued to press high up and preventing Iraq from getting a foot in the game. Katanec made a brave substitution to take off a defender and bring on an attacker, allowing the side to fall back to 4-4-2 – off came Frans Putros and on came Bashar Resan.
Despite the presence of another attacking midfielder on the pitch, Iraq continued to be dominated in the midfield area by an organised Vietnamese midfield. Every time Vietnam attacked, Iraq looked stretched and vulnerable. Ali Adnan failed to track a run by Trong Hoang Nguyen, who cut in and had a tame shot poorly palmed away by Jalal Hassan, into the path of Phuong Cong Nguyen, who tucked away the rebound. Iraq would go into the second half behind.
The second half saw Iraq settle down and get more comfortable with the ball. The side started to pass the ball better, but still failed to dominate. Osama Rashid was a surprise withdrawal for Humam Tariq, who came on after 58 minutes. The side desperately needed more energy in the midfield, and Osama wasn’t having his usual dominant performance. It turned out to be a masterstroke from Katanec, when Hussain Ali crossed in for Muhanned Ali to test Dang Van Lam. The goalkeeper can only parry, but Humam Tariq was there to smash it in with his first touch of the game.
Iraq continued to press but the lack of creativity was clear – Muhanned had done terrific all game but he was feeding off of scraps, with the midfield offering nothing. Humam certainly did his part and helped press the opposition defence into errors, but nothing fell to Iraq. You could feel Iraq starting to dominate as the Vietnamese players tired out late on in the game, but it was difficult to identify where the goals would come from.
Safaa Hadi won a freekick on the edge of the box as Iraq pressed for a winner with two minutes left on the clock. Up stepped Ali Adnan, with the seconds ticking away. What followed will forever be replayed on Iraqi television – Ali takes three strides before curling a phenomenal freekick into the top corner, winning a tough fixture for Iraq as the clock rolls into stoppage time. Scenes of jubilation for Iraq and distraught for a talented Vietnamese side who deserved more for their performance.
It was an incredible goal, and a reminder of just how talented some of these Iraqi footballers actually are when given the opportunity to impress. Despite them having a poor game, Ali stepped up when his nation needed him, kept a cool head and won the game for Iraq. He has single-handedly kept our hopes of progression to the knock out stages alive this tournament. Whilst watching this however, one has to ask about the potential of this Iraqi national team if this side was actually given support by the fraudulent FA, a proper structure, a long term plan and some managerial stability.
Although this was a crucial victory for the national team, it was still paving over the cracks for the Iraqi FA. Here is Vietnam, who Iraq absolutely battered in 2007, en route to wining the Asian Cup , now giving Iraq a run for their money. In fact, Vietnam entered this game with an 18 game unbeaten record, which is a credit to their FA and managerial administration. It proves what can be achieved with proper support given to a national team, even if they haven’t got the best players in the world. On another day, this could have been a loss and no fan would have any complaints about it given the performance. Vietnam passed the ball well, they controlled the midfield and looked far more creative in our half. Instead, Iraq looked disorganised, stretched at every opposition attack, and unable to string a good number of passes together. Fortunately for the Iraqi FA, our victory came thanks to the individual brilliance of Muhanned Ali, Humam Tariq and Ali Adnan.
Massive credit must be given to Katanec for his brave substitutions throughout the match. Bringing on Bashar, Humam Tariq and Alaa Mhawi turned out pivotal in securing a massive victory for the Lions of Mesopotamia. Next up, Iraq take on Yemen, the group underdogs. It’ll be an opportunity for Iraq to assert themselves as a force in the tournament and come away with a convincing victory. Here is to another Iraqi win – Jeeb al Kaas, Jeeba!