Ali Adnan’s last gasp strike helped Iraq begin their AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 campaign with a narrow 3-2 defeat of Vietnam on Tuesday.
Champions in 2007, Iraq had been behind twice before Adnan’s sublime set-piece secured all three points for Srecko Katanec’s relieved charges against a highly rated Vietnam side at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium.
At a competition where, so far at least, several of the region’s powerhouses have had things far from their own way, the victory saw Iraq go second in the Group D standings, behind the Islamic Republic of Iran who top the table following their 5-0 win over Yemen a day earlier.
After a slow start to proceedings, and with Vietnam more than holding their own, Iraq came closest to breaking the deadlock through Hussein Al Saedi’s shot from distance which Dang Van Lâm expertly tipped around his left-hand post on 14 minutes.
Content to sit back and then break with lightning speed, an irrepressible Vietnam duly took the lead 10 minutes later, Nguyen Quang Hai’s searching pass causing confusion in the Iraqi backline which saw defender Ali Faez turn the ball past the onrushing Jalal Hassan and into his own net.
Iraq rallied after the setback however, and they claimed a deserved equaliser shortly after the half-hour mark when Do Duy Manh’s defensive lapse saw the impressive Mohanad Ali Kadhim surge into the area and fire home past a diving Van Lâm.
With three minutes of an enthralling first period remaining, Vietnam regained the lead in dramatic fashion as Nguyen Công Phuong bundled home the rebound after Nguyen Trong Hoàng’s shot had been parried into his path by Hassan.
The game’s topsy-turvy nature showed no sign of relenting after the break, with Safaa Hadi being denied by the alert Van Lâm and then Hassan diving to smother a scuffed Công Phuong effort.
Iraq continued to press for an equaliser, and it duly came in the 60th minute, substitute Humam Tareq gleefully smashing the ball into the roof of the net after Vietnam had failed to properly clear Kadhim’s close-range effort.
Vietnam responded well through a Quang Hai strike which Hassan expertly turned to safety, before Iraq began to dominate proceedings with the full-time whistle approaching.
Indeed, in the final dramatic twist of a quite extraordinary encounter, Ali Adnan curled home a 90th minute free-kick from fully 20 yards to seal a sensational victory for Iraq.
Iraq now face Yemen in Sharjah on Saturday, while Vietnam will play the table-topping Iranians in Abu Dhabi on the same day. AFC