Iraq and Vietnam served up a footballing treat for the neutral in Group D as a topsy-turvy game produced no less than five goals, end-to-end action, and a dramatic last-minute winner from Ali Adnan for Iraq.
Ali Adnan and teammates celebrate as Iraq secure dramatic last-minute victory over Vietnam. (Getty Images/AFP/K. Desouki)
This clash was always going to be one to watch out for as Iraq's discipline and experience in the Asian Cup was matched against the youthful exuberance of Vietnam, boasting an average age of just 23.
Iraq defeated Vietnam the last time these teams met in the Asian Cup in 2007, going on to win the title while Vietnam would spend 12 years away from the tournament.
In an end-to-end contest, Vietnam's quick and rapid passing caused Iraq problems from the start and they duly and deservedly took the lead in the 24th minute, albeit with a helping hand.
Quang Hai Nguyen played in Cong Phuong Nguyen with a delightful through ball and with the front man shaping to shoot, Iraqi defender Ali Faez Atiyah intervened, only to send the ball into his own net.
But Iraq were fashioning chances of their own against a shaky Vietnam backline and were soon level in the 35th minute. Duy Manh Do inexplicably messed up a clearance as the last man in defence and Mohanad Ali didn't need an extra invitation, emphatically firing Iraq back in the match.
Vietnam were relentless, however, running non-stop as they sought to overaw their opponents. And just before the break, the intensity paid off. Trong Hoang Nguyen cut in from the right, weaved his way into the box and let loose a shot which Jalal Hassan could only parry. Cong Phuong Nguyen was the quickest to react, pouncing to give Vietnam a 2-1 win.
Experience wins out
Vietnam's naivety, as well as Iraq's street smarts, proved crucial in the second half.
Shoddy defending was once again at fault as Tien Dung Bui failed to deal with a cross, leaving Ali free to head towards goal. Dang Van Lam managed to parry but a goalmouth scramble saw substitute Humam Tariq smash home.
At 2-2 it was all to play for with an hour played but Vietnam, perhaps tiring after their gung-ho approach, sat back and invited Iraq to control possession.
Ill-discipline and an incredible piece of skill settled the match as Safaa Hadi was brought down at the edge of the box with 89 minutes on the clock. Left-back Ali Adnan stepped up to curl an inch-perfect free-kick into the top corner, giving Dang Van no chance and sending Iraq into delirium.
Heartbreak for Vietnam, who put on an entertaining display. Iraq will now be frontrunners to qualify automatically out of Group D alongside leaders Iran, who thrashed Yemen 5-0 on Monday.
Saudi Arabia win easily
In Group E, Saudi Arabia had little trouble with North Korea, winning 4-0 in Dubai. Hatan Bahbri gave the Saudis the lead on 28 minutes, cutting inside from the left to hit a right-footed shot past Ri Myong-guk. Saudi Arabia doubled their lead nine minutes later when Mohammed Al Fatil flicked home Hussain Al Mogahwi's free kick.
North Korea went down to 10 men when Han Kwang Song was sent off for a second booking a minute before the halftime break. Salem Al Dawsari put the result beyond doubt 20 minutes from fulltime and Fahad Al Muwallad added the fourth in the 87th minute.