AFC Asian Cup 2023: Iraq Stun Japan, 2-1

Iraq shocked tournament favourites Japan on Friday, 2-1 to claim a spot in the knockout stages of the AFC Asian Cup. The match that was played at the Education City Stadium in front of 40,000 fans was Japan’s first group-stage loss at the Asian Cup since 1988. 

Aymen Hussein scored both goals for Iraq in the first half as Iraq held the four-time champions scoreless until an injury-time consolation header from Wataru Endo.

The win lifted Iraq, the 2007 champions, to the top of Group D which guarantees them the round of 16. Japan, Asia’s highest FIFA ranked team at 17, is in second place and will likely need a win or draw in their final match to qualify.

Iraq took a 1-0 lead after just six minutes after Japan’s goalkeeper Zion Suzuki pushed Ali Jasim’s cross straight to Hussein, who headed it home. 

Japan pushed forward attempting to equalize but were unable to get into the box due to some solid defense by the Iraqis. Just before the end of the half Iraq doubled its lead in added time, again from a Hussein header, this time crossed by Aymed Yahya.

Wataru Endo of Japan, Liverpool FC during the match between Iraq and Japan
IMAGO / Sebastian Frej

Japan had a chance to cut into the lead early in the second half after a penalty was called on Rebin Sulaka after fouling Rebin Sulaka. However, the referee Khalid Al-Turais overturned his original decision reviewing the foul on the pitchside monitor.

Endo was able to eventually get one into the back of the net but it was too little too late for Japan. With only a few minutes left in the match, Iraq was able to hang on and take the victory.

Japan will face Indonesia in their third and final group stage match. A loss would knock them out of the tournament.

Indonesia Beat Vietnam To Go Level with Japan

In other Group D action, Indonesia was able to trump Vietnam by the score of 1-0 to keep their chances of qualifying to the next round. Indonesia lost their first game of the competition to Iraq 3-1.

While the match with Vietnam was close, Indonesia did have control over possession. The deadlock was broken after 42 minutes when Nguyen Thanh Binh fouled Rafael Struick’s in the box. Captain Asnawi Mangkualam was able to capitalize with a penalty goal to put Indonesia ahead.  

Vietnam were unable to get anything going offensively and for the second time were reduced to 10 men late in the game. Le Pham Thanh Long got his second yellow card. 

Vietnam are now officially eliminated from qualifying for the next round of the tournament. Indonesia will need to beat Japan to go through which is expected to be a tough task against the favourite of the tournament.

Iran Qualify For Knockout Round With 1-0 Win

Iran were able to also book their place in the last 16 when they beat Hong Kong 1-0 in a Group C game on Friday. The match took place in the Khalifa International Stadium, with the decider coming from Mehdi Ghayedi.

The result puts Iran on six points at the top of the group which ensures that they will have a top-two finish. United Arab Emirates is second in the group at the moment with four points while Palestine are third with one point.

Iran’s win came from a 24th minute goal from Ghayedi, where the 25-year-old was able to sneak one past the keeper at a tight angle. There were a number of other chances for Iran but they only managed the one goal in the match.

Hong Kong, who returned to the Asian Cup after 56 years and are 129 places below Iran in the FIFA rankings, remain winless in the tournament. They are eliminated from making the next round and have no points after losing to UAE in their group opener.

Iran will play UAE on Tuesday in their last group game, which should decide who tops the group. The way Iran have dominated possession in their last couple of games they will go in favourites to take the win.