|Iraq's Asian Cup 2007 hero Younis Mahmoud opened the scoring but Iran fought back to claim the win [AFP]
A mistake by Iraq goalkeeper Mohammed Kassid gave Iran a late 2-1 win over the defending Asian Cup champions in a pulsating Group D match in Al Rayyan, Qatar.
With a fierce battle between the Gulf neighbours heading for an honourable draw after Gholamreza Rezaei had cancelled out Younis Mahmoud's opener for Iraq, Iman Mobali's free kick from the left on 84 minutes was intended for an Iranian head.
But as the ball eluded both attack and defence, Kassid misjudged the flight and saw Iran's winner bounce past his trailing leg and into the net as he dived the wrong way.
The result sees three-times Asian champions Iran force an early dominance in Group D after North Korea drew 0-0 with the United Arab Emirates in the afternoon kickoff.
Tuesday night's match 20km outside the Qatari capital, Doha, had begun promisingly for Iraq, who won the Asian Cup in 2007 despite four years of war at home.
Each team could claim about half of the 10,500 fans present, most of whom maintained a brief silence before kickoff for the victims of the Iranian plane crash.
|Iranian fans were a small but vocal presence at the Al Rayyan stadium in Qatar [AFP]
Such was the noise coming from the two blocks of support, side by side on one touchline, that you wondered at the atmosphere had they filled the 21,000-seater Al Rayyan stadium – which is set to double in capacity in time for World Cup 2022.
The Iran fans were briefly silenced when the champions scored the opening goal of their title defence on 13 minutes.
Mahdi Kareem's long floated cross from the right was met beyond the far post by Emad Mohammed, who expertly nodded it back over Mahdi Ramati into the goal.
Emad wheeled away in celebration pursued by his teammates, but replays showed that Younis, who scored the winner in the 2007 final, had slid in to get the last touch.
The match had begun with total physical commitment from both sides and the goal did nothing to deflate Iran.
The powerful runs of a pugnacious Rezaei down the right were proving a constant hassle for the Iraq defence as the red-shirted Team Melli launched a series of assaults that foundered before they could do any damage.
While the tackles were strong, there were several candidates for an Academy Award as those on the receiving end practised their I've-been-shot routines in an attempt to attract the referee's whistle.
One such successful act in the 39th minute saw a free kick cause panic in the Iraqi six-yard box before the ball was hacked away, but the reprieve was fleeting.
Surging forward again, Iran's former English Premier League midfielder Andranik Teymourian waited for Rezaei to set off from his mark before releasing a delicate through-ball for the striker.
With Iraq appealing for offside, Rezaei took his time before clipping the ball past Mohammed Kassid into the far corner.
Iran celebrated long and loud before Iraq almost retook the lead in injury time, Ala'a Abdulzehra seeing his header batted off the line by Rahmati.
The Iranians, with defender Hadi Aghili marshalling the resistance to any Iraqi forays, continued to batter at the door in the second half to no avail before the defending champions finally found the tide turning back their way.
With 20 minutes to go, Imad burst through to beat Jalal Hosseini and square into the box for Younis, who missed the opportunity by inches before Rahmati booted away from the onrushing midfielders.
More chances followed with Rahmati looking vulnerable on high balls, but it was his opposite number who ended the villain of the piece as Mobali was hidden under a pile of celebrating red shirts.
Source: Al Jazeera