(CNN) -- Iran's bid for a record fourth Asian Cup final title began with a 2-1 victory over neighbors Iraq in Qatar on Tuesday, thanks to a late goalkeeping error by the defending champions' Mohammed Kassid.
Kassid completely misjudged a dipping free-kick from out on the left by Iman Mobali, which bounced in front of him and appeared to go through his legs in the 84th minute.
One of the fiercest rivalries in world football produced a relatively low-key affair, with the booking received by Iraq substitute Samer Saeed that led to the goal being the only yellow card brandished by Uzbekistan referee Ravshan Irmatov.
Iran made the worst possible start in the long-awaited pivotal match in Group D when conceding the opening goal against the run of play in the 12th minute.
Iraq skipper Younis Mahmoud, the player of the tournament four years ago after netting the only goal of the final against Saudi Arabia, was credited with the score after ramming the ball home from right on the line after Emad Mohammed's header back across the box appeared to be heading in anyway.
However, Iran leveled three minutes before halftime when Gholam Reza Rezai beat the offside trap to collect Andranik Teymourian's clever pass into the penalty area and beat goalkeeper Kassid for his ninth international goal.
The Iranians could not make their dominance count until Kassid's mistake, with Rezai coming closest to scoring shortly before that lapse when he hit the sidenetting.
Al-Rayyan Stadium was barely half-full for a match between nations at war from 1980-88, with a brief period of silence before the kickoff in honor of the77 people who died in Iran after a plane crash on Sunday.
"When these two teams play each other there's so much rivalry and history, so it's very difficult to get the players to concentrate and focus on football and it becomes a fighting game," Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi said in quotes reported by the AFP news agency.
"I was very happy my players were able to concentrate and could get this very special three points."
North Korea and the United Arab Emirates earlier kicked off the Group D schedule with a 0-0 draw at the Qatar Sports Club in match between teams ranked 105th and 108th in the world respectively.
Captain Hong Yong-Jo missed an eighth-minute penalty for the Koreans, who qualified for the 2010 World Cup but lost all three matches, after Hamdan Al Kamali fouled Germany-based striker Jong Tae-Se.
The Middle Eastern side, runners-up when hosts in 1996, went on to dominate the game after Hong's spotkick hit the bar but could not beat goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk.
The U.A.E. had won their only previous Asian Cup encounter in 1992 -- the communist country's last Asian Cup appearance, and second since it began in 1956.
"We didn't play well. It was our first match and the players showed about 80% of their skills," said North Korea coach Jo Tong-Sop, who took over from Kim Jong-Hun after the World Cup.
"After failing the penalty shot, it became psychologically tough for our players as they became nervous."
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia have brought back Nasser Al Johar for a fifth stint as national coach ahead of Thursday's second Group B clash with Jordan.
Portugal's Jose Peseiro was sacked after the shock 2-1 defeat by Syria on Sunday.
Peseiro replaced Al Johar in 2009 when the Green Falcons failed to qualify for last year's World Cup.