Dubai: One of football’s great rivalries takes centre-stage at the Asian Cup on Wednesday when Iran play Iraq still smarting from their controversial exit four years ago. Iran played most of the classic 2015 quarter-final with 10 men after Mehrdad Pooladi’s hotly disputed first-half dismissal but when it ended 3-3 after extra-time, Iraq edged the penalty shoot-out. Iran’s protest that Iraq yielded an ineligible player was dismissed as Carlos Queiroz’s three-time winners were sent packing from the tournament in Australia.
Four years on from their clash in Canberra, Iran forward Saman Ghoddos said memories were still fresh as Team Melli take on Iraq in their final game of Group D. “Iraq are tough opponents and I think that this will be a revenge match for us,” said Ghoddos, according to Iranian website. “I’ve been waiting for this match ever since the last Asian Cup. We will win this match for the people.” Football is one of the remaining points of contention between the Middle East neighbours, who fought a bloody war in the 1980s in which hundreds of thousands of people died. Relations between the two countries have warmed since the removal of long-serving Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, but games between the two are not for the faint-hearted. Iran, the three-time Asian Cup winners, lead Iraq on goal difference at the top of Group D, with both teams already qualified for the next round. Former Real Madrid and Portugal coach Queiroz, linked with a move to the Colombia national team after the Asian Cup, said his prime concern was maintaining Iran’s perfect start.