By Yash Mudgal/ Doha
Bahrain kept their winning streak over Iraq intact to enter final of the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup yesterday.
At the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium, Bahrain defeated three-time champions Iraq 5-3 in a thrilling penalty shootout to end a tie that had started with three goals inside the first 18 minutes of play.
Both the teams were locked two-all at the end of full time play. Thirty minutes of extra time play too couldn’t break the deadlock forcing the penalty shootout.
Iraq started off well with Mohamed al-Shammari, who plays for Al Duhail in the QNB Stars League, scoring the opening goal at his home stadium, and the Iraqi fans went wild.
Al-Shammari latched on to a rebound which came off Bahrain keeper Sayed Hashem, who could not hold on to the brilliantly executed free-kick by Alaa al-Gharrawi, and guided the ball past a helpless Hashem to go 1-0.
While Iraq was on the attack, Bahrain played the waiting game and were content in getting back into the Iraq territory through break back moves. And Bahrain responded less than ten minutes later, when Abdulla al-Haza’a guided a corner kick past the keeper to equalise.
However, Bahraini’s relief was short-lived, as just four minutes later Ibrahim Bayesh put Iraq 2-1 ahead.
The much talked about Bahrain defence resisted quite a few Iraq attacks successfully and even managed to equalise again much against the run of play through a counterattack which earned them a flag kick.
Al-Haza’a’s left-footed floater caught the Iraq defence unaware, as an unchallenged Mohamed Marhoon leapt high to head home past Iraq keeper Jala Hajem at the stroke of half-time to make it 2-2.
Thereafter, both the teams came up with threatening moves but could not trouble the scorers. Coaches of both the teams ringed in a couple of substitutions in the second session but it did not make much of a difference on the goal front as the half remained goalless.
Both the teams created openings in extra-time to but could not score. Iraq had two clear opportunities to force the matter. On the first occasion, Bayesh al-Kaabawi failed to beat the goalkeeper in the third minute of extra time and in the eighth minute substitute Shareef al-Amari did everything right to beat his marker but ended up shooting wide.
At the other end, Iraq goalkeeper Hajem pulled off a save to keep out a threatening shot from Marhoon in the tenth minute of the extra time. Bahrain’s Thiago Fernandes, who scored a double against Kuwait, raised high to meet a cross from the right but his header was straight at Hashem.
In the shoot-out the first three kicks from both the sides were spot on. Thiago slotted Bahrain’s fourth penalty, but substitute Mohamed Majid, who scored Iraq’s winning goals in their tournament-opener against hosts Qatar, shot wide much to the crowd’s disbelief, leaving the 22-year-old inconsolable.
Ali Madan converted Bahrain’s fifth penalty to take his team to the title clash.
This was Bahrain’s fifth win over Iraq in recent times and it will be their fifth final in the tournament. Before yesterday’s semi-final, Bahrain had only defeated the Lions of Mesopotamia in the competition over a decade ago. Their most recent win, however, was when they beat Iraq 1-0 in the 2019 WAFF Championship in October.
“We have played a great game today and our players gave a high quality performance,” Bahrain coach Helio Sousa said.
“Our players have shown that they can concentrate and come back in the game. We may be the weakest of the four in the semi-finals, but we managed to be the best and reach the final,” the Portuguese said.
Iraq coach Srecko Katanec felt his tired side played a good game.
“We opened the game well, but we failed to control well in the defence especially the second goal was a gift at this level,” Katanec said.
“We have played six games within 20 days, and the team also suffered several injuries, I think it is an impressive performance.”
Now the final question remains, will Bahrain win their maiden title when they will meet three-time champions Saudi Arabia in the final at the Khalifa International Stadium on December 8 or Saudis regain the title after a gap of 15 years.
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