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Asian Cup 2019: Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia through to knockout stage Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Asian Cup 2019: Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia through to knockout stage

Carlos Queiroz's Iran players simply destroyed the Vietnamese with a complete and elegant 3-0 [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 January, 2019

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The Asian Cup group stage is advancing, with a day with plenty of Middle Eastern football action.

The Asian Cup group stage is advancing, with a day with plenty of Middle Eastern football action.

Iranian national team played against Vietnam at Al-Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi, in what was supposed to be a big test before their final group stage’s match against Iraq. It wasn’t the case, as Carlos Queiroz's players simply destroyed the Vietnamese with a complete and elegant 3-0.

It took them 38 minutes to get on the board, with Sardar Azmoun who headed home a magnificent & stylish cross by Saman Ghoddos, after a great attack. 

Ashkan Dejagah dictated and ran the whole show from the middle of the pitch and Iran simply looked unbeatable. So far, Dejagah has arrived in terrific form for this competition.

He looks serious, quiet, motivated, showing a lot of leadership. It seems that his short time close to Masoud Shojaei in Tractor Sazi has influenced him a lot, and made him capable for the ‘father figure’ in Quieroz’s band. They are through to the knockout stage, scoring 7 and conceding none. No doubt that Iran is a serious title contender.

Up next it was Iraq who played against sympathetic Yemen, who in their first ever tournament look quite similar to the current situation in their country. After losing to Iran 5-0 in the first game, the Yemenites conceded 3 goals from the Lions of Mesopotamia. Mohanad Ali, the young starlet was again in focus, with Bashar Resan and Ali Abbas adding their own.

Iraq is through to the next round, and only a lucrative victory over Iran in the final day of the group stage would finalise who would enjoy an easier draw in the bracket.

The day ended with other favourites to go all the way - the Green Falcons of Saudi Arabia, who played the aspiring but limited Lebanon.

The Saudis didn’t need to put a serious effort, and after just 11 minutes it was their star figure - Fahd Al-Muwallad - who netted a superb half-a-volley from a close range.

The Lebanese players tried to sting, but what is defining this Saudi side of Spanish coach Juan Antonio Pizzi is its durable presence. The Saudis were controlling the pace, the ball, the chances, everything. Hattan Bahbri, was again in the middle of the action, setting a great assist for Hussain Al-Maqhawy. 

The Saudis are through, and now almost everything is set for the battle of all battles in the group stage - Saudi Arabia versus Qatar, in a match that will mean so much more than just Group E rankings.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.

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