CANBERRA (AFP) – Salam Shakir scored the winning spot-kick as Iraq stunned 10-man Iran 7-6 on penalties to reach the Asian Cup semis in a match of high drama between the arch-rivals on Friday.
In a sensational quarter-final at Canberra Stadium, the sides were locked at 1-1 at full-time before Iran twice came from behind in extra-time to force penalties.
Iran had been a man down since Mehrdad Pooladi was sent off for a second yellow card late in the first half, sparking a furious reaction from coach Carlos Queiroz.
But their heroics were in vain when Vahid Amiry struck the post with the 15th spot-kick, and Shakir stepped up to coolly slot the winner for the 2007 champions.
Iraq now go into a semi-final against South Korea, while three-time winners Iran were left fuming at the abrupt end to their promising campaign.
“You can imagine how I feel but I cannot express it because if I say what I feel and tell the truth about what everyone saw in the game I will get punished,” coach Queiroz said.
“I am very proud of the way my players fought, they are in my heart and deserve every respect,” he added.
Iraqi coach Radhi Shenaishil said it would be difficult for his team to recover in time for Monday’s semi-final, but he backed his team to go all the way to a second title.
“We have (one) less day to prepare than South Korea and recovering in time is now our main focus,” said Shenaishil, on loan for the Asian Cup from Qatar Sports Club.
“But in the semis, anything can happen, and all four teams have the same chance to lift the trophy.”
Iran started well and Sardar Azmoun powered a header past goalkeeper Jalal Hassan for a 1-0 lead on 24 minutes, before they were controversially reduced to 10 men.
Pooladi was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for simulation from Australian referee Ben Williams — a target of Queiroz’s wrath earlier in the tournament.
Iraq goalkeeper Hassan pushed Pooladi in the chest, sending the Iranian left-back falling to the ground — far too easily in the opinion of Williams, who gave him a caution.
But the referee appeared to have forgotten that he had already booked Pooladi earlier in the half, and having been reminded, reached for his red card a good while afterwards.
The furious Queiroz, fined $3,000 for criticising Williams after the group win over Bahrain, had to be restrained as he tried to talk to the referee going into half-time.
A rejuvenated Iraq made their numerical advantage count after the break when Ahmed Yaseen drove in a low shot at the back post to make it 1-1 on 56 minutes.
As the second half progressed, players were starting to wilt in the 32 degrees Celsius (89 Fahrenheit) heat and were taking every opportunity to stop for water.
Iranian legs begun to tire but they hung on until extra time, when Iraq captain Younis Mahmoud, scorer of the winner in the 2007 final, headed his side 2-1 in front.
Iran levelled through Morteza Pouraliganji’s header — but the defender’s joy was shortlived as he conceded a penalty by clattering into Yaser Kasim, which Dhurgham Ismael dispatched.
It looked all over, but Iranian substitute Reza Ghoochannejhad headed in from close range less than two minutes from the end of extra-time to force penalties.
Both sides missed their opening spot kicks but then scored six each, including a brilliant “panenka” from Mahmoud and another successful kick from Ismael, before Shakir took full advantage of Amiry’s miss for Iran.
“The coaching staff instilled so much confidence in me to score two penalties,” said man-of-the-match Ismael.
“This win can have such a positive impact on our country because of all the difficulties back home,” he added.