BANGKOK, July 7 (Reuters) - Striker Younes Khalef scored
the equaliser to earn Iraq a 1-1 draw with Group A hosts
Thailand in the opening match of the Asian Cup on Saturday.
Khalef headed the ball into the back of the net to secure
the draw and spoil Thailand's planned celebrations on a wet and
miserable night in Bangkok.
'There was a lot of rain... a lot of water in the stadium,'
Iraq's Portuguese coach Jorvan Vieira told reporters. 'My team
is a good tactical team but we cannot play in those
Khalef's goal combined with Thailand's fickle weather to
ruin the hosts' hopes of a better start.
The expansive Rajamangala stadium was less than half full
after the city was drenched by a tropical storm that caused
flash flooding in the surrounding suburbs and kept thousands of
potential spectators away.
The pitch had been badly soaked, preventing both teams from
developing any fluency and they resorted to long-range shots on
goal to try and break the deadlock in the second half.
'It was difficult, the state of the pitch made it hard to
control the ball and we lost it in midfield a lot,' Charnwit
Iraq had the better of the first half but went behind early
to a hotly disputed penalty converted by Sutee Suksomkit.
Thailand's chief playmaker Datsakorn Thonglao caught the
Iraq defence napping in the sixth minute when he flicked the
ball to his teammate Kiatisuk Senamuang who fell in the penalty
box after making light contact with Ali Rehema.
Referee Kwon Jong-chul waved away the Iraqi protests before
Sutee stepped up to the spot and coolly slotted home.
Iraq were unlucky not to draw level when midfielder Salih
Al Sadwn executed a brilliant bicycle kick that Kosin
Hathairattanakool tipped onto the bar.
Kosin pulled off another diving save from Sadwn but was
powerless to stop the Iraqis from equalising in the 31st minute
when Khalef climbed above two defenders to connect with a Sadwn
free-kick and head the ball into the back of the net.
Neither side could break through in the second half as the
conditions began to make the pitch even more slippery as they
settled for a point each.
'We did not want to play a long-ball game, but football is
like this sometimes,' Vieira said of Iraq's tactics and the
Australia and Oman, who are also in Group A, play their
opening match at the same ground on Sunday.