Iraq reached the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup for the fourth successive tournament after their goalless draw with Gulf rivals Oman at the Supachalasai Stadium on Monday coupled with Australia’s 4-0 win over hosts Thailand saw Jorvan Vieira’s side finish top of Group A.
It wasn’t Iraq’s best performance in the competition but the point was enough to ensure that the Iraqis stay in Bangkok for and will face Vietnam, who finished second in Group B despite going down 4-1 to Japan earlier on Monday while Australia will take on the defending champions after their 4-0 win over hosts Thailand took them through to the last eight as Group A runners-up.
Oman, needing to win to have any chance of reaching the last eight, had the first chance of the match when Badar Mubarak played the ball through to Ismail Al Ajmi in space near the box but a combination of the slickness of the rain-soaked pitch and the alertness of Noor Sabri saw the Iraq keeper safely take possession.
Three minutes later Badar fired a low drive to the keeper’s right but Sabri got down well to save the effort before the Oman forward again released Al Ajmi but again Sabri was equal to the task.
The Iran-based keeper did give the pocket of Iraqi fans a minor scare when his momentum caused him to spill the ball outside of the area, although he recovered in ample time to clear the danger.
It was all Oman in the opening 20 minutes and but for a couple of unproductive corners Iraq struggled to find the attacking verve that saw them outclass Australia 3-1 in their previous Group A fixture.
With five minutes left to play Mahdi Karim’s acrobatic overhead set Iraq skipper Younis Mahmoud and Ali Al Habsi off on a race for the ball which the Bolton Wanderers keeper won with a timely header clear from outside his area.
Immediately after Fawzi Basheer should have opened the scoring after being set-up by Badar – easily the best player of a disappointing first half – but the midfield dynamo’s close-range angled shot was too tame to trouble Noor.
Oman pressed forward in the second half looking for the goal that would keep their Asian Cup dream alive but it was the Iraqis who had the first chance 15 minutes after the restart.
Mahdi Karim’s trickery took him past Issam Fayel allowing the midfielder to whip in a cross for Younis but the Iraq skipper, under pressure from two Oman defenders, headed wide.
The second half was punctuated by numerous free-kicks and from one of these Ahmed Hadid almost gave Oman a 62nd minute lead, but his curling effort was tipped over the bar by Noor.
Three minutes later Younis almost set up an unmarked Karrar Jassim, who came on at the end of the first half for the injured Hawar Mulla Mohammed, but the 2006/07 Qatar League’s top scorer under hit his square pass and the danger was cleared.
With ten minutes left to play Younis again had the chance to break the deadlock but his low strike was comfortably saved by Al Habsi.
Younis Al Mushaifri almost ensured Oman went out on a winning note but the substitute’s header three minutes from full-time flashed wide of Noor’s post before Imad Ali, one of a number of Omani players that Iraq coach Vieira groomed when the Brazilian was at the helm of the Gulf sultanate’s under 20s, saw a stoppage-time shot saved by Noor.