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 By Jason Dasey

Joy for Mahmood as Iraq beat Iran in AFC Asian Cup quarterfinal

Iraq striker Younus Mahmood proved he is still a force to be reckoned with in the Asian Cup quarterfinal victory over Iran.

2007 champions Iraq moved through to the last four of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup by defeating Iran 7-6 on penalties after a dramatic quarterfinal in Canberra on Friday night. The scores were level 1-1 after 90 minutes and 3-3 after extra-time.

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Three-time winners Iran played more than 80 minutes with 10 men. Iraq now head to a Monday semifinal against South Korea in Sydney.

Here are three points from an unforgettable night in Australia's capital city:

1. Four goals in extra-time

Younus Mahmood was supposed to be a spent force coming into this tournament. He hasn't had a club since 2013 and was talked out of retirement just over a year ago. He missed November's Gulf Cup with a leg injury. He lasted an average of 70 minutes in Iraq's three group games. He turns 32 soon, but looks older.

Yet the man who scored the goal in the final that powered Iraq to the 2007 Asian Cup title somehow found the reserves of energy to put his team ahead in extra time.

In the 93rd minute, it was his diving header on the end of the deflected cross from full-back Dhurgham Ismael that gave Iraq a 2-1 lead and the self-belief that they could go on with the job.

As his teammates surrounded him, he celebrated as Samuel Eto'o did for Chelsea after scoring a goal in the English Premier League last season, imitating an old man with a walking stick. Eto'o's performance was for Jose Mourinho. Mahmood did it to share his joy with the loyal Iraqi fans.

But just as the Iraqi journalists were preparing to send another heroic footballing tale back to Baghdad, three other goals -- two by 10-man Iran and one by Iraq -- were scored in extra time to send the match to a nerve-wracking penalty shootout.

22-year-old Iranian defender Morteza Pouraliganji rose high from the Andranik Teymourian corner to score his first senior goal for his country in the 103rd minute to make it 2-2.

But then Iraq went ahead again. After Yaser Kasim was brought down in the box, it was 20-year-old full-back Dhurgham Ismael who converted the spot-kick for a 3-2 Iraq lead in the 116th minute.

And then three minutes later, supersub Reza Ghoochannejhad poked the ball home after the goal-mouth scramble that came after another perfect Teymourian corner to make it 3-3.

The stage seemed set for Iran to sneak into the last four on penalties, given their superior big-match experience in recent years. But it was the 2007 champions who prevailed, with Mahmood taking the clutch fifth penalty. If he missed, Iraq were eliminated. Instead he dinked the ball home Panenka-style -- having missed a similar attempt in a recent warm-up game.

The Lions of Mesopotamia would go on to win when Salam Shakir converted his team's eighth spot kick after Vahid Amiri had hit the post for Iran with the previous penalty. Mahmood could celebrate as the Iraqi hero once again.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz was incensed by referee Ben Williams' decision to flash a second yellow card at defender Mehrdad Pooladi.

2. Ben Williams vs. Carlos Queiroz

Referee Ben Williams had already angered Iran coach Carlos Queiroz early in the tournament. The former Manchester United assistant boss was fined $3,000 after criticising the Australian whistle-blower's performance in their opening group match against Bahrain on Jan. 11.

But Williams incensed Queiroz when he reduced Iran to 10 men in the 43rd minute after the stunning decision to show utility player Mehrdad Pooladi a second yellow card.

Pooladi, who plays in club football in Qatar, followed through aggressively on a ball that was collected by Iraq goalkeeper Jalal Hassan. Hassan took offense and shoved Pooladi in the chest. The Iranian tumbled to the ground as if he'd been seriously wounded.

Williams had no hesitation in showing Pooladi a yellow card for his theatrics. But in a Graham Poll-like moment, he didn't realise that he'd booked him 22 minutes earlier for an equally innocuous foul.

It took Iraqi captain Mahmoud, running 50 metres from the other side of the field with two fingers raised, to remind Williams that it was Pooladi's second yellow card which, of course, equalled a red.

A stunned Pooladi trudged off the field and Queiroz was incensed. He stood muttering with hands on hips. Later, he'd have to be restrained by Iranian officials as Williams went off the field at half-time.

This was a game far too big for one of the A-League's most polarising referees. When the match descended into scuffles towards the end of extra-time, a flustered Williams, brandishing more yellow cards, had completely lost control.

Iran youngster Sardar Azmoun scored the opener and troubled the Iraq defence in the first half.

3. Iranian Messi takes more responsibility

Iran's whiz kid Sardar Azmoun has been eased carefully into the national setup. He was left behind when Iran went to the 2014 World Cup, having made the preliminary 30-man training squad. He was used off the bench in Iran's opening game of the Asian Cup against Bahrain.

But the 20-year-old -- who carries the burden of the "Iranian Messi" nickname -- started his country's two other group matches and has become an important cog in Team Melli. The first half of the quarterfinal was his best performance so far wearing the white shirt. His combination with former Fulham winger Ashkan Dejagah caused Iraq plenty of problems.

Iran's opening goal came after 24 minutes when Dejagah released Vouria Ghafouri on the right hand side. Ghafouri whipped in a perfect cross. Both Masoud Shojaei and Sardar rose for the ball but it was the latter's bullet header that gave Iran the lead. At that point, everything was going to plan for Asia's best-performed team at Brazil 2014.

In the 55th minute with Iran down to 10 men, Azmoun cut inside from the left to make a brilliant run into the box, before blasting his shot over the bar. Eight minutes later, he took a knock and was substituted as Iran looked for defensive reinforcements. One wonders how he may have been able to help his tiring team in extra time.

Iran scored a famous victory on Australian soil when away goals in Melbourne took them through to the 1998 World Cup in France. The stakes were almost as high in this three-hour epic but it ended in heartbreak for the Persian Stars, who haven't won the Asian Cup since 1976.

Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.


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