Iraq’s Mohanad Ali Kadhim (left) celebrates his goal against Vietnam at Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: The AFC Asian Cup continental showpiece event may be in its initial stages, but it has already thrown up a few surprises — to say the least. After Jordan stunned firm favourite Australia and India romped past a robust Thailand, former champions Iraq were stung by Vietnam in the Group J fixture at the Zayed Sports City Stadium on Tuesday.

The ‘Lions of Mesopotamia’ rallied from a goal down twice to escape the clutches of the Golden Dragons before registering a hard fought 3-2 win. At half-time, Vietnam led 2-1.

For Iraq, Mohanad Ali Kadhim, Humam Tareq Faraj, Ali Adnan Al Tamimi scored while for Vietnam, Ali Faez Atiyah (own goal) and Nguyen Cong Phuong scored a goal apiece.

An Iraqi football fan
An Iraqi football fan flashes the victory sign while another fan points to her T-shirt reading in Arabic ‘Iraqi first’. Image Credit: AFP

In the first half, Iraq was clearly struggling to match the guile of their counterparts who had some quality players with tremendous pace and agility marshalling the midfield. Vietnam were also extremely effective on the counters and kept troubling the Iraq defence every time they had the ball.

With Iraq repeatedly giving away the ball cheaply, the breakthrough for Vietnam came in the 24th minute. Nguyen Quang Hai Phuong’s through ball was enough to create a bit of a panic in the Iraqi camp. With Nguyen Cong Phuong charging in, Iraq defender Atiyah tried to stop the ball and clear it on the turn but his back leg deflected it into his own goal.

It triggered wild celebrations among the Vietnamese fans but the lead didn’t last long. Iraq striker Kadhim, after coming close a couple of times, found the equaliser following a miscue from Vietnam defender Do Duy Manh in the 35th minute. Once Kadhim had the ball at his feet, he dribbled past another defender Que Ngoc Hai before slotting the ball home with ease.

Vietnam remained undeterred and they immediately switched into an attacking mode and in the 42nd minute were able to again restore their edge.

Nguyen Trong Hoang, after making a fine run from the right, managed enough space to unleash a left-footed effort. Though Iraq goalkeeper Jalal Hassan Hashim dived full-stretch to keep it out, Nguyen Cong Phuong overlapped and shot home on the rebound. The Iraqi players pressed but a pumped up Vietnam held their nerve to go into the breather with the crucial one-goal cushion.

It was certain that Iraq would come back hard after the change of ends. They started to use the long ball to their advantage to create openings in the Vietnam defence and the scores were level in the 60th minute.

Hussain Al Saedi sent in a cross from the left and Kadhim followed it with a well-directed header and though Vietnam goalkeeper Dang Van Lam managed to block it, Faraj scored on the rebound after a goalmouth melee.

Iraq then stole the match-winner through a free-kick one minute from time to break the hearts of the Vietnam fans who had turned up in large numbers. Al Tamimi floated it over the wall into the top right corner of the goal.