The Vietnam Golden Dragons received a disheartening AFC Asian Cup opening match setback against the Mesopotamian Lions of Iraq on Tuesday evening. Finding themselves trailing Vietnam on two separate occasions during the match, Iraq was able to rally to come out on top and claim a 3-2 victory inside Zaved Sports City Stadium.

The match couldn’t have started out much better for the reigning Southeast Asian champions as they were brilliant in their counter attacks. The pressure paid off early in the 24th minute when Iraq’s Ali Faez Atia unconsciously deflected a ball into his own goal following an aggressive Vietnamese attack which opened up the Iraqi defense to give the Golden Dragons a 1-nil advantage.

Shortly after, a defensive blunder on the part of Đỗ Duy Mạnh helped set the table for an equalizing goal from Mohanad Ali in the 35th minute to level the score at one goal apiece.

From that point on, the match turned into a seesaw battle. Just before the halftime whistle sounded, Vietnam once again found themselves with an advantage after Nguyễn Công Phượng netted the team’s second goal of the night in the 42nd minute. He was able to turn a primary shot off the foot of Nguyễn Trọng Hoàng, which was saved by Iraq’s Jalal Hassan, into a 2-1 Vietnam lead heading into the break.

The dramatic finish that ensued to close out the match was just as exciting, if not, more, than what went down in the opening half.

In the 60th minute, Iraq substitute Humam Tariq snuck in a shot past Vietnam goalkeeper Đặng Văn Lâm during a scrambled play inside the box to even up the score at 2-2.

With the match nearing its finish, it appeared as if both countries would exit the pitch with a well-deserved stalemate in an equally-matched contest. However, the final turn of events which unfolded didn’t serve well for the Park Hang-seo-led side.

A risky foul by Nguyễn Phong Hồng Duy near Iraq’s penalty area proved to be costly for the ASEAN representative. Ali Adnan was able to turn the awarded free kick into a 90th minute to complete the Iraqi comeback rally.

Opening matches have spelt trouble for the tournament’s Southeast Asian countries. With their 3-2 defeat to Iraq, Vietnam now joins Thailand and the Philippines in having to digest a loss at the start of their respective campaigns.

Vietnam will have to put the loss behind them quickly as they prepare for a showdown with Iran, the continent’s number one ranked team, on Saturday.

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