Thailand held Iraq to a 1-1 draw in Bangkok yesterday as the Asian Cup got underway in pouring rain, dampening an otherwise entertaining start to the three-week soccer festival.
A tropical downpour two hours before kick-off left the pitch water-logged and delayed the official opening ceremony, which was shortened and took place in front of a near empty stadium.
The rain eased in time for the game but many fans stayed away.
A day before the match Asian Football Confederation president Mohammad bin Hammam said he was anticipating a sell-out crowd at the 60,000-capacity ground.
Instead less than half that made the trek to the Rajamangala National Stadium.
Those who stayed away missed an exciting start to the competition.
Thailand unexpectedly took the lead in the sixth minute after a dubious penalty was awarded by referee Kwon Jung-chul when talismanic striker Kiatisuk Senamuang was adjudged to have been nudged to the ground by Ali Rehema.
Sutee Suksomkit calmly converted the spot kick into the left-hand corner.
But it was all Iraq from there on in a pulsating first half, with the Thais ragged at the back.
Salir Sadwn was a danger man forcing some fine saves from Thai keeper Kosin Hathairattanakool.
Iraq went close in the 16th minute when Sadwn's spectacular overhead kick was palmed onto the post by Kosin.
Their reward came just after the half hour mark when captain Younis Mahmoud, still mourning the loss of a close relative in his war-torn homeland, rose above two defenders to head home Sadwn's looping free kick from the left.
But Iraq were unable to finish off the hosts, with Thailand warming to their task in the second period as Therdsak Chaiman blazed over the bar in the 56th minute and Datsakorn Thonglao went close five minutes later.
Substitute Teeratep Winothai nearly sealed victory for the Thais with five minutes left, forcing Iraqi goalkeeper Noor Hassan to push his long-range effort over the bar.