CANBERRA (Reuters) - Iraq beat Iran 7-6 on penalties to reach the semi-finals of the Asian Cup on Friday after the two Middle Eastern rivals played out one of the most extraordinary matches in the tournament’s history.
With police heavily patrolling the stands and the tension escalating with each new dramatic development, Iraq fought back to beat a 10-man Iran after the teams finished tied at 1-1 at the end of normal time and then 3-3 after extra time.
Defender Salam Shakir calmly converted the decisive penalty after Vahid Amiry missed for Iran, hitting the post, sending Iraq through to the semi-finals against South Korea.
The Iraqi players and their fans roared with delight, united in a rare moment of celebration for a country that has been torn apart by war.
Eight years ago, Iraq defied the problems in their homeland to win the Asian Cup for the first time and now they are dreaming big again after beating their fiercest foes, who were brave in defeat.
Iran initially took the lead when Sardar Azmoun scored a brilliant goal in the first half but were forced to retreat into defence when Mehrdad Pooladi was sent off in the 43rd minute when he was booked for a second time.
Aged just 20 and standing 1.78 metres (5ft 10in) tall, Azmoun climbed above two defenders to connect with Vouria Ghafouri’s cross from the right and steer the ball past Iraqi goalkeeper Jalal Hasssan into the net.
Iraq, with the advantage of the extra man, drew level in the 56th minute. Alaa Abdul Zahra, returning to the Iraqi team after suspension, broke free down the left and whipped in a cross that beat everyone except Ahmed Yasin, who fired it back through a crowded six-yard box and into the net.
Iraq took the lead twice in extra time only for Iran to hit back on each occasion.
Younis Mahmoud, who famously scored the winner in the 2007 Asian Cup final, scored two minutes into extra time, but Iran tied the scores at 2-2 through Morteza Pouraliganji in the 103rd minute.
Iran’s fate seemed sealed when the same player gave away a penalty for bringing down Kasim as he was bearing down on goal.
Dhurgham Ismail converted the spot kick with just four minutes left on the clock before Iran substitute Reza Choochannejhad tied the scores again two minutes from the end of a classic, heart-stopping match.
As expected, there was a heavy police presence at Canberra Stadium for the clash between two nations with a long political history.
The Australian referee Ben Williams handed out 10 yellow cards and things briefly threatened to get out of hand when the teams began to push and shove each other near the end of extra time.
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty/Sudipto Ganguly