Asian Cup 2023: Iraq guaranteed to top group ahead of final round of matches

Aymen Hussein scores twice to pull off one of the biggest upsets against Japan

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Iraq's stunning performance at the 2023 Asian Cup has thrown Group D wide open and tossed pre-tournament permutations out of the window.

Aymen Hussein scored two first-half headers in front of nearly 40,000 fans in Doha to hand four-time champions Japan a first Asian Cup group-stage defeat in 26 matches with a 2-1 result at the Education City Stadium on Friday.

The win lifted Iraq, the 2007 champions, to the top of Group D and a guaranteed spot in the round of 16 as table toppers. Four-time winners Japan, Asia’s highest-ranked team at 17, are second with their progress far from certain.

Jesus Casas's Iraq currently top the group with two wins from two games, while Japan and Indonesia have a win and a loss apiece. The final round of Group D matches on Wednesday are Japan v Indonesia and Iraq v Vietnam.

No matter what happens, Iraq and certain to finish on top. And if Indonesia manage to beat Japan, the Asian powerhouse will not make the cut as one of the top two from their group and will then have to see if they are among the four best third-placed teams to qualify for the last 16.

Even a draw against Indonesia on Wednesday will be enough to see Japan through in second spot.

For Iraq, it was a dream come true. However, they are not resting on their laurels and focusing on finishing the stage with a win over Vietnam, who are already eliminated.

"We have to think about Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam," coach Jesus Casas said.

“This tournament is very hard. All tournaments are very hard, because in one tournament like this one mistake, bye-bye, no more. We have to think only about Vietnam and, after Vietnam, the next opponent.”

“Football is fighting, it’s the quality you most need to be competitive,” Casas added. “It’s important to win a match. My way since I came to the Iraq national team is the same, also in friendly matches I chose the players who can be fighters but good players too."

Among the favourites at the start of the tournament, Japan's defeat to Iraq has exposed the cracks in coach Hajime Moriyasu's team.

Moriyasu admitted things are not looking good.

“We prepared in the same way as we prepared for the first game against Vietnam but in the beginning we found ourselves in a difficult position, especially with the crowd it felt like an away game,” he said.

“The second goal hit us hard, but we have to learn from our mistakes. The players fought very hard and I must take the blame for the loss. The tournament hasn't ended, we have to prepare for victory in the game against Indonesia."

Updated: January 20, 2024, 12:42 PM