Iran’s forward Karim Ansarifard (centre) clashes with Iraq’s Mohammad Dawood at the Al Maktoum Stadium. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Both coaches walked off the pitch with football as the ultimate winner as neighbours Iraq and Iran split the points in their crucial Group D encounter of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup at Al Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium late on Wednesday.

With nothing on the line except an exciting and charged-up fight to decide the group winners after both sides had already secured their spots in the knockout round with two wins each against Vietnam and Yemen, this was one match that lived up to its hype.

The meeting of the two teams on the pitch has always been emotionally charged and this time was no different as both failed to break the deadlock after 90 minutes of unstoppable action in front of a 15,000-strong crowd at the Al Maktoum Stadium.

The result meant both ended with seven points with Iran owning leadership with a better goal difference, and the right to possibly meet Palestine, while Iraq will wait for either Saudi Arabia or Qatar. “We can take a strategic approach to manage earning points in the group stages. But from now on, it is everything for the winner and nothing to the loser. Our Asian Cup starts from the next game,” Iranian coach Carlos Queiroz said in his post-match comments.

“This was a tense match with a lot of excitement for the fans. In the first half we played good football and controlled the game while creating at least two chances. But it was 50-50 in the second half as we changed our strategy and preferred catching Iraq on the counter. Both had one opportunity each, and at the end of the day, the draw was a fair result for the commitment and effort put in by both teams,” the Portuguese added.

“At the end of this match I can be proud of the fact that I have 23 players who can all play for Iran. It is my duty to put the best playing eleven on the pitch. We made five changes and these substitutes too came up with the perfect response while expressing themselves through some beautiful football. Even though the match turned emotional at one stage, my players came out with great character. If my team has to sing and dance to express themselves on the pitch, then they will do that as well. This is quite a headache to have now as I will have to choose the best eleven for the next match.”

Iraq coach Srecko Katanec was not too worried about their last-16 opponents. “I really don’t care whether it is Qatar or Saudi Arabia. Any team wanting to be a champion has to play all the other big teams. I am very satisfied with my team today. Both Iran and Iraq were totally at a different level today,” the former UAE coach pointed out.

“I have said this before. We will go game by game. We want to win the next one now. Every game is a different story and you can never know what will happen. I can only say that all my players are ready. We have to put them all at a higher level so that we can peak in time.”