Iran-Iraq classic rivalry
Like many nations that share a border, Iran and Iraq have a shared history that stretches back decades, and it is through football that this rivalry finds it’s purest expression.
This great West Asian football rivalry kicked off with three matches held in the 1960s. The first two matches in 1962 were held in Tehran as international friendlies, with the first match drawn 1-1 and the second won by Iraq 2-1. In 1969, in a Friendship Cup that included Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Russian club Spartak Moscow and Turkish club Mersin İdman Yurdu, Iran defeated Iraq 2-1, afcasiancup.com wrote.
The two nations first met in an Asian Cup in 1972, with Iran winning 3-0 thanks to a hat trick from star striker Hossein Kalani. The great Iranian side, filled with players from Esteghlal, Persepolis and Pas Tehran, was the defending champion of Asia from 1968. Placed in a group with rivals Iraq and host nation Thailand, Iran would go on to win the tournament, with Kalani finishing as the Golden Boot winner.
In all four matches played between the two nations during the 1970s, Iraq couldn’t manage a single victory over Iran, only scoring one solitary goal in a 1-1 draw in a Olympic Games qualifier in 1975. In 1976 Iran won its third straight Asian Cup, and victory was made sweeter by defeating Iraq in the Group Stage. In 1996 and 2000, Iran and Iraq were again drawn in the same group, and they shared the spoils with one win each. Iranian great Ali Daei scored in both matches.
Perhaps the biggest game between the two nations, however, came in 2002 in a World Cup qualifier. For the first time in decades the match was not held at a neutral venue, and 100,000 people packed into Azadi Stadium in Tehran to cheer. In a tense match, ‘the wizard of Tehran’ Ali Karimi netted the winning goal, sending tens of thousands of Iranian fans to celebrate a famous victory.
The last time these two sides met in the 2011 Asian Cup, Iran won 2-1. In the 2015 Asian Cup, Iran and Iraq could meet as early as the quarterfinals in either Sydney or Canberra. With a host of international players, Iran might be considered favorites, although Iraq has a squad brimming with young talent. If it does meet, expect fireworks from one of football’s great rivalries.