Captain Alaa Abdul-Zahara led from the front as he provided an assist for the first goal and scored the second, which was enough for Iraq to seal a straightforward victory. While UAE enjoyed a slightly better percentage of possession, Iraq clearly dominated the contest. They also had five shots on target to UAE’s two. With a game against lowly Yemen to come, Iraq are the favourites to finish as Group A toppers and look a serious threat for their fourth Gulf Cup title.
Iraq's forward Alaa Abdul-Zahra celebrates after scoring
Having been forced to field a second string side against Qatar after eight of the Al Shorta club players arrived only on the match eve, Iraq were back to full strength Friday.
Katanec even benched Mohamed Qasem, who scored a brace against Qatar, and Al Duhail starlet Mohanad Ali.
That only showed how impressive was Iraq’s victory against the Asian champions Qatar and they continued their fine show Friday. It took just six minutes for Iraq to get on the board, as Abdul-Zahara released a perfect ball past two UAE defenders and found Alaa Abbas in the box, with the striker taking one clean swipe to put his team ahead.
Iraq were lucky not to concede a penalty in the 18th minute after goalkeeper Mohamed Hameed Farhan brought down a charging Ali Saleh just outside the box. Farhan was only shown a yellow card by Belgian referee Alexandre Boucaut, with UAE players protesting for a penalty in vain. The ensuing free kick, though, almost brought an equaliser for the UAE.
Ali Mabkhout, who had scored a hat-trick in UAE’s win over Yemen in the opening match, struck well from the edge of the box from the right side, but Farhan read the ball well, leaping to punch the ball with his right hand.
While UAE sensed an opening, Iraq looked more likely to increase their lead. In the 32nd minute, Iraq midfielder Amjad Attwan attempted an ambitious strike from 45 yards but it landed safely into the hands of Mohamed al-Shamsi.
Five minutes later, Iraq doubled the lead with UAE defenders once again caught napping. This time it was the turn of captain Abdul-Zahara to get onto the scoresheet. Ali Adnan played a cross into the box with Abdul-Zahara rising between two defenders to head the ball into the net.
Iraq started the second half in the same way as they did in the first. Three minutes after the break, Ali Faez Atia’s header missed the target by a whisker. Mohanad Ali, who replaced Abbas in the 62nd minute, had a great chance two minutes after coming in but the Duhail forward, despite having all the time in the world, hit straight to al-Shamsi.
While UAE looked for a breakthrough, the only time they troubled Iraq was in the 72nd minute when a Mabkhout shot was parried away by Farhan.
Iraq could have sealed the contest with a third goal after being awarded a penalty. Referee Boucaut initially ignored calls for spot kick after Iraq’s Mohamed Reda Jaleel was caught by the high boot of Khalifa Mubarak in the box. But after a VAR consultation and then watching the replay himself, Boucaut awarded a penalty to Iraq.
Defender Adnan stepped forward to take the shot but his weak right-footer was easily saved by al-Shamsi, diving to his right.