Honours even in Asian Cup opener (Jul 7, 2007)

PA Sport

BANGKOK Ė Co-hosts Thailand and Athens Olympic Games semi-finalists Iraq shared the points when they played out a 1-1 draw in the opening game of the AFC Asian Cup 2007 at Rajamangala Stadium on Saturday evening.

An entertaining first half saw the Thais take the lead after just six five minutes of their Group A encounter through Sutee Suksomkitís penalty only for Younis Mahmoud to pull Iraq level with a header 13 minutes before the half-time break.

The rain, which fell incessantly through the game, failed to ruin the match as a spectacle even though the second half was a more cagey affair than the opening 45 minutes.

The Thais, looking for their first-ever Asian Cup victory, took an unexpected lead after Ali Hussein Rehema nudged Kiatisuk Senamuang as he went to latch onto Datsakorn Thonglaoís flick into the penalty area, and Korean referee Kwon Jong-chul had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

Sutee stepped up to sweep the ball into the corner, sending Noor Sabri in the Iraqi goal the wrong way to delight the home fans.

The goal did little to rattle the Iraqis, though, who continued to control the tempo of the game and created the better of the first-half chances.

Saleh Sadir tormented the home sideís back line and three minutes after the Thai opener his through-ball almost released Hawar Mulla Mohammed, only for the midfielder to be denied by a desperate lunge from Nataporn Phanrit.

A minute later Sadirís long-range effort was pushed wide for a corner by Kosin Hathairattanakool and seconds later Jassim Mohammed Gholam headed Nashat Akramís centre wide when he should have done better.

Iraqís domination continued and in the 16th minute Kosin denied another Iraqi effort from well outside the penalty area when he pushed Mahdi Karimís shot away while seconds later Karim turned provider, clipping the ball in for Sadir, whose spectacular overhead kick was turned onto the crossbar thanks to Kosinís reflex save.

But the Thais could only hold out for so long, and eventually Jorvan Vieiraís side hit the equaliser they deserved.

It came via Mahmoud, who had been relatively quite until the 32nd minute, but the Qatar-based striker made amends when he rose to flick Sadirís free kick into the top corner of Kosinís goal.

While the Iraqis had the better of the opening half, Thailand were the dominant force in the second 45 minutes, but they were unable to turn their superiority into goals.

Datsakornís long-range shot was fumbled by Sabri, only for the Iraqi goalkeeper to gather at the second attempt while, with three minutes remaining the Iran-based custodian palmed substitute Teerathep Winothaiís shot over the bar, safeguarding the point his team had earned.