Ghotbi: Calming team talk key in stressful derby

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 1980-88 war.

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 defence.

"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 match-winning goal.

"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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