Alaa Abdul Zahra was the hero for Iraq as the 31-year-old playmaker scored one goal and set up another as Iraq beat the UAE 2-0 in a Group A game of the Gulf Cup football tournament at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on Friday.
The UAE never found their top form as Iraq booked their place in the semifinals with this comprehensive win.
Now Bert van Marwijk's team face a must-win situation in their final Group A game against hosts Qatar on Monday.
Anything less than three points on Monday will probably end their campaign in the group stages itself.
On Friday, The Whites struggled with their passing in a game that failed to produce quality football.
Iraq walked away with the semifinal ticket on the back of their precision in front of the goal.
And the man behind their success was their veteran playmaker Zahra.
Making his 117th appearance for Iraq in international football, Zahra was in top form right from the start as his perfectly weighted pass from the right side of the field found striker Alaa Abbas inside the box.
Abbas found the space and the back of the net with a sweet right-footer to give Iraq an early lead.
Stunned by the early deficit, the UAE tried to force the pace, but they lacked the passing ability in the middle of the park as their attackers too fluffed their lines.
Then in the 33rd minute, it was Zahra again who rose to the occasion with a precise header from a beautiful cross off Ali Adnan to put the Iraqis in commanding position.
It was an uphill battle for the UAE from then on as Iraq's defensive formation never gave them the space to create solid chances in the final third.
The UAE began the second half with a simple aim - dominate the midfield. But Iraq were equal to the task and could have gone 3-0 up in the 64th minute when substitute Mohanad Ali missed a golden chance, sending the right-footer from edge of the box straight to the UAE goalkeeper Mohammed Al Shamsi after being released from the midfield.
While the UAE continued to look for chances, it was Iraq again that were offered another golden chance to consolidate their lead when the referee pointed to the spot with VAR assistance in the 63rd minute.
But defender Ali Adnan, who helped Zahra score Iraq's second goal, came up with a poor penalty as the UAE bench heaved a sigh of relief.
Now, they must quickly regroup for their decisive Group A game against the home team on Monday.
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