Both Iran and Iraq had already qualified for the quarterfinals ahead of the match at University of Taipei Gymnasium but, nevertheless, it was to be a hard-fought and intriguing contest to see who would top the group, the-afc.com reported.
With Iran having netted double figures in both previous ties against Myanmar and China, Iraq shocked the defending champion by taking the lead with seven minutes played as Waleed Khalid burst up the field on the counter to fire across Alireza Samimi into the far corner.
But Iraq’s joy was cut off in less than a minute. Hossein Tayebi bravely challenged flying Iraq goalkeeper Zaher Mahdi for Farhad Tavakoli’s chipped ball forward, and his header looped into the unguarded net.
And with just over eight minutes remaining Iran completed the turnaround with Ali-Asghar Hassanzadeh notching his seventh of the tournament after his shot took a wicked deflection off Hasan Ali to wrong-foot Mahdi.
Iraq was determined to restore parity before the break, though, and Samimi needed to be on his toes to keep out several efforts, including a firmly-struck shot from Salim Faisal that needed a particularly agile parry, while at the other end Mahdi bravely smothered at the feet of Tayebi.
It was a closely fought affair after the restart and it took over five minutes before the next goal was scored, Moslem Olad-Qobad tapping home Tayebi’s cross at the back post to double Iran’s lead.
Firas Mohammed reduced the deficit to 3-2 by converting Khalid’s cross with a little over 10 minutes remaining but, as before, the Iraq goal triggered an immediate response from its opponent with Tavakoli side-footing in a fine strike to restore the two-goal advantage.
The back-and-forth nature of the game continued with Mohammed adding his second and Iraq’s third of the night as he headed home after a three-on-one counterattack.
But it was Tayebi who had the final say in the game as he took the outright lead in the top-goalscorers standings with his second of the night and eighth overall to give Iran the 5-3 victory.
‘Tough as expected’
"It was expected that we would have a tough game. We know Iraq very well, as we play each other two to three times a year. The tough teams always give tough games,” Iran’s head coach, Mohammad Nazemasharieh said after the match.
“It was clear Iraq wanted to be number one in the group so they played a strong game. Time by time and step by step, the games get harder and harder as the tournament progresses,” Nazemasharieh added.
“The knockout stage is no joke, if you make mistakes you’ll be eliminated. We may look to be more conservative in some matches going forward."