Iraq held as group remains wide open
Karbala: Hosts Iraq squandered an opportunity to seal their place in the final in a 0-0 draw with Syria, while Yemen kept their hopes alive with a timely win as Group A continued at the 2019 WAFF Championship on Thursday.
Iraq’s scoreless draw prevented them from wrapping up the group with a game in hand, setting what looms as a group-defining clash on Sunday against Yemen, who defeated Lebanon 2-1 to claim their first win in over a year.
Palestine, who did not play on Thursday, also remain in with a chance of reaching the final, while Syria and Lebanon are now eliminated.
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YEMEN 2-1 LEBANON
With just one point from their first two matches, Yemen had to beat Lebanon to have any chance to progressing from Group A, and two goals in the dying moments of the first half ensured they completed the task with a drought-breaking 2-1 win at Karbala Sports City.
Yemen’s victory - their first on the international stage since defeating Nepal to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup in March 2018 – came thanks to goals from Tawfik Emad and Abdulwasea Al Matari, as Lebanon’s campaign came to an abrupt end.
The Cedars started the match relatively strongly, creating a number of early chances before taking the lead in the 26th minute, when Mohamad Kdouh arrived just in time to nod home Mohamad Haidar’s perfectly weighted cross from the right flank,
But Yemen levelled through Emad in the 43rd minute, making Lebanon pay for some sloppy defending which allowed the forward to dribble into a shooting position before beating goalkeeper Mustafa Matar with a low drive from 15 yards.
Lebanon’s horror spell before half-time continued when Mootaz El Jounaidi fouled Al Matari just inside the penalty area, with Al Matari successfully converting the subsequent spot kick in the second minute of added time.
Despite the hot conditions, play continued at a high tempo in the second half, but Lebanon weren’t able to recreate the consistent opportunities they had carved out in the opening period.
In fact, as the match wore on, it was the Yemenis who looked like adding to the score, with both Mufeed Gamal and substitute Mohsen Hasan coming close to doing so in the latter moments without reward.
Despite those close calls, Yemen prevailed to keep their tournament alive – although they will need to beat Iraq on Sunday to stand any chance of progressing further – while zero points in as many matches brought Lebanon’s tournament to an early end.
SYRIA 0-0 IRAQ
In the later match, unbeaten Iraq were held to a frustrating goalless draw by Syria in front of 33,500 fans at Karbala Sports City.
Despite Yemen’s earlier win, Iraq could have secured their place in next Wednesday’s final with a game in hand by taking three points against Fajr Ibrahim’s side, but both defences stood firm over 90 hard-fought minutes.
The hosts attacked early, with 19-year-old Ibrahim Bayesh Al Kabaawi particularly prominent, but the Syrian goal was rarely threatened and Huseein Ali was one of the few Iraqi players to test goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma in the opening 45 minutes.
Alma denied Ali once again just after the hour mark, before Syria began to force the issue in the latter stages, carving out a promising opportunity for Mohammad Al Marmour in the 77th minute, only for his effort at goal to end up narrowly wide.
Mazen Fayyadh Ajeel sent a header over the bar for Iraq with seven minutes remaining, but that was as close as they got to finding the goal they needed to make their status as group leaders permanent.
Iraq’s destiny remains very much in their hands. They sit three points clear of both Yemen and Palestine, with anything other than a loss against Yemen on Sunday guaranteed to seal their place in the final against either Bahrain or Kuwait on August 14.
Conversely, Syria – with two points from three matches – are out of contention, although they could still affect who does advance to the final in Sunday’s match against Palestine.
Photos: Iraq Football Association
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