DOHA - Calming an emotionally charged team
at half-time in a tense derby against arch-rivals Iraq was the
key to Iran's comeback victory at the Asian Cup on Tuesday,
coach Afshin Ghotbi said.
"I think we started the game with a lot of stress and I
think the stress had a lot to do with the mistakes we made but I
think as we went on we played better football," Ghotbi told
reporters after the 2-1 victory at the Al Rayyan Stadium.
"Every time these two countries play each other at football
there is so much rivalry and history it is very difficult to get
the players to focus and concentrate on playing football and it
becomes more of an emotional, fighting game.
"I think whenever neighbours play each other there is always
rivalry, you look at all the classical rivalries across the
world and I think Iran and Iraq is rivalry that has been around
for a long time, it's a special one and I think it's fantastic
we have these rivalries."
Prior to the game, both coaches had been keen to play down
talk of the rivalry between the two Middle East countries, who,
when mentioned together, naturally evoke memories of their
However, Ghotbi could be accused of adding to the pressure
on his team by saying he would win a record fourth Asian Cup and
end their 35-year title drought.
"I think my feeling is the game was complex not only because
it was Iran and Iraq but it was the first game of the tournament
and on top of it Iraq were the defending champions so you had
three very complex situations," Ghotbi said.
"What we tried to do between the halves was emotionally
settle our players down and talk about the organisation in our
"The Iraqi team are very difficult to play against. They
play direct and are fighters in all position and are especially
dangerous on set pieces, they are not easy opponents."
Iraq coach Wolfgang Sidka was left disappointed by his team
for giving away the free-kick from which Iman Mobali scored the
"Both teams played with a lot of fighting spirit, it was
more a fighting game," Sidka said.
"At the end, what we did wrong was give away a foul
unnecessarily around the box. We knew they were very dangerous
in this situation."
The defeat left Iraq bottom of Group D after North Korea and
United Arab Emirates played out a 0-0 draw earlier.
"There are positives and negatives, we made chances but also
made mistakes. It will be hard but we are still in the
competition and still alive," said Iraqi defender Nishat Akram.
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