Jo Tong-sop's squad heads home with zero goals
DOHA (AP) ― Defending champion Iraq reached the Asian Cup quarterfinals by defeating North Korea 1-0 on Wednesday.
Iraq will play Group C winner Australia in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
Midfielder Kerrar Jasim scored in the 22nd minute, sealing Iraq’s place in the knockout round behind Iran, which topped Group D.
Iraq coach Wolfgang Sidka praised his team, saying it played very well in the first half, but admitted it almost lost control of the match in the last 20 minutes when North Korea pressured for an equalizer.
“The most important thing is we are playing the quarterfinal against Australia,” Sidka said. “I think we deserved the victory tonight.”
Jasim, who limped off the pitch to be replaced by Hawar Mohammed in the 77th, said the team won’t celebrate advancing to the quarterfinals for long.
“We still have a long way to go,” Jasim said. “Our match against Australia will be tough. They are one of the favorites to raise the cup. Every game we are improving and proving that we deserve to be Asia champions.”
North Korea’s Cha Jong-hyok (right) and Iraq’s Karrar Jassim challenge for the ball. (AFP-Yonhap News)
North Korea kept a tight defense throughout the match at Al Rayyan Stadium, making it difficult for the Iraqis to create opportunities.
Iraq’s best chance before Jasim scored came in the 17th when Mahdi Kareem’s header hit the underside of the crossbar. Five minutes later Jasim netted on a rebound after Ri Myong-guk parried striker Mustafa Kareem’s shot.
North Korea’s few chances came from set pieces. The biggest threat to Mohammed Kassid’s goal was when midfielder Kim Kuk-jin lifted the ball over Iraqi defenders from a free kick in the 25th but straight into Kassid’s arms.
Iraq, the first-time tournament winner in 2007, needed only a draw to advance after an earlier lucky win over the United Arab Emirates and a loss to Iran.
North Korea, which qualified for last year’s World Cup, will head home without scoring a goal in Qatar.
North Korea coach Jo Tong-sop attributed the loss to his team’s failure to convert chances, saying his side suffered a psychological setback after conceding the early goal.
“We conceded the goal too early so this affected our tactics,” Jo said.
“We understand defense is important but not more important than everything else.”
Overall, participating in the Asian Cup was “a good experience,” Jo said, adding that he will focus on developing the team’s attack.