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Narrow escape for Iraq

CHENGDU (CHINA), JULY 22. A last-minute header by Qusay Munir gave Iraq a 3-2 victory over Turkmenistan in a Group `C' match of the Asian Cup football here on Thursday. Playing in its first major tournament since the U.S.-led invasion, the young Iraq team showed both power and finesse in overcoming the Central Asians, who had held group favourite Saudi Arabia to a 2-2 tie on Saturday.Under cool temperatures at Chengdu's Longquanyi stadium, with Iraq's Hawar Mohammed opened the scoring in the 12th minute with a header.

Turkmenistan answered two minutes later when Vladimir Bayramov, perfectly placed in front of the goal, headed in a cross from Begenchmuhammed Kuliyev.

Turkmenistan was reduced to 10 men in the 59th minute when Kamil Mingazov was sent off for a second yellow card, and Iraq made the most of its advantage 20 minutes later when Razzaq Farhan restored the lead with another header after a strike from substitute Ahmed Manajid had ricocheted hard off the bar, leaving Turkmen goalkeeper Yevgeniy Naboychenko stunned.

Against the run of play, Turkmenistan equalized two minutes later when Vladimir Bayramov smashed a free kick through the Iraq wall and past goalkeeper Ahmed Jabar.

With the minutes ticking down, Iraq's Qusay Munir headed in a free kick from Hawar Mohammed, sending the Iraqis into paroxysms of joy and relief. At the whistle, they turned to applaud the Chinese fans who had provided vocal support throughout the match.

``The next match against Saudi Arabia will be crucial since it will decide who goes into the next round,'' said Iraq coach Adnan Hamd, who took charge of the team earlier this month following the resignation of Germany's Bernd Strange.

``Our players tried hard and played their best. Iraq is just the best team in this group,'' Turkmen Coach Rahim Kurbanmamedov.

Saudi Arabia beaten

Alexander Geynrikh scored a classic goal to give Uzbekistan a 1-0 victory over three-time champion Saudi Arabia and assure a place in the Asian Cup second round.

The loss dealt a blow to Saudi Arabia's hopes of advancing from the group stage. The 1984, 1988 and 1996 champion, which has appeared in the past five finals, now dwells at the bottom of Group C with just one point.

Uzbekistan is first in the group with six points, followed by Iraq with three. Turkmenistan has one point.

Geynrikh's goal came in the 12th minute when he shifted feet to beat the defender at the edge of the area, then drove a knee-high scorcher past diving goalkeeper Mansour Al Naje.

Saudi Arabia had several excellent chances in the half, including a shot by Saad Al Zahrani that was punched away at the last second by Uzbekistan's goalkeeper Evgene Safanov.

More chances came in the second half, as Uzbekistan increasingly moved into defensive mode. But a host of Saudi players were unable to finish, hitting the cross, shooting wide, or falling prey to Safanov's formidable reach. ``It was a very tough match for us, but we're happy to qualify.'' Uzbek coach Khaydarov Ravshan said. — AP

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