Dubai: Former champions Iraq will be keen to be among the early entrants into the Round of 16 stage when they take on Yemen in their Group D encounter at the Sharjah Stadium, on Saturday.

Crowned champions in 2007, Iraq had to dig in deep for a hard-fought 3-2 win over Vietnam in their opener last Tuesday. Yemen, on the other hand, got smothered 5-0 as a rampant Iran opened on a dominant note in the other group encounter.

Iraq have a better record in the last 10 matches played. The Lions of Mesopotamia have suffered just one loss — a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Argentina in a friendly in October — but have six wins and three draws to show their ascendancy.

Yemen have just one win — a 2-1 result against Nepal in their AFC Asian Cup qualifier held on March 27 last year. They have four draws and five losses, posing a huge task in front of their Slovak coach Jan Kocian. The two teams have met five times, of which Iraq has won three while the other two have ended in draws.

Going by their showing against Vietnam, it looks like Srecko Katanec’s Iraq can hope for full points against a team that has struggled in recent times. Slovenian Katanec — one-time head coach of the UAE — has been one of the few who has not put his boys under pressure to perform. “I want the players to enjoy what they are doing on the field. The results will follow automatically,” Katanec had said before their group opener against Vietnam.

Catch the Match

Group D

Vietnam v Iran, 3pm, Abu Dhabi

Yemen v Iraq, 5.30pm, Sharjah

Group E Lebanon v Saudi Arabia, 8pm, Dubai