CANBERRA (AFP) – Bitter rivals Iran and Iraq square off in a potentially explosive Asian Cup quarter-final in Canberra on Friday with the coaches of both teams urging players to keep their emotions in check.
There has been little love lost between the neighbours over the years, Iran frequently coming out on top — winning the continental tournament three times to Iraq’s solitary title.
The prize is a semi-final with South Korea or Uzbekistan as Iran bid to end an Asian Cup drought stretching back to 1976, and Iraq a repeat their improbable triumph of 2007.
With the stakes so high, Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil and Iran boss Carlos Queiroz said the key to victory would be cool heads — not blood and thunder.
“Of course there is history between the two teams,” said Shenaishil, on loan for the Asian Cup from Qatar Sports Club.
“But I want to see a quality match, not powerful tackles. In the quarter-finals we want to give the right impression of football in Asia.
“The coaching staff will be telling players to forget about emotions,” he added. “On the day they are there to do their duty and the team that can produce on the day will get the win.”
Team Melli and the Lions of Mesopotamia last clashed just a few weeks ago when Iran triumphed 1-0 in a tournament warm-up in Sydney.
But Friday’s encounter is set to be an entirely different affair with the boisterous and vocal support of both teams expected to turn up en masse for a full house at Canberra’s 25,000-seater stadium.
Iran go into the match in impressive form having kept a clean sheet in all three group-stage games and topping Group C after beating Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates.
Iraq took second place in Group D behind holders Japan, wins over Jordan and Palestine bookending a 1-0 defeat by the Blue Samurai.
– Under pressure –
While Shenaishil was drafted in at the last minute, Queiroz is under pressure to deliver a fourth title after signing a new deal following Iran’s exit at the group stages of last year’s World Cup in Brazil.
“Controlling emotions is not going to be easy, but as I said to my boys this morning everything goes to the winner — nothing to the loser,” the former Portugal and Real Madrid coach told reporters.
“I think if my players direct their tensions and concentrations on their tasks, duties and dreams then that will be the right way to control their emotions.”
Iraq’s Shenaishil complained his side were at a disadvantage because they played on Tuesday, while Iran last took the field on Monday. However, the Lions have not had to travel while Team Melli have made the trip from Brisbane.
“It’s not fair to have a day less but we have a young team that can recover,” the Iraqi boss said, adding that the violence being wrought at home by the Islamic State insurgency gave his players added motivation.
“What our country is suffering acts as a positive, not a negative, in that it makes the players more determined,” he said. “It gives us more of a push to bring happiness and a positive result to our country.”
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