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Kathmandu: Iraq qualified for the AFC U-16 Championship 2018 after a 0-0 draw against India in their final Group D qualifying match at the Halchowk grounds in Kathmandu on Sunday.

The result meant defending champions Iraq top the Group with seven points and earned a ticket to the Finals in Malaysia next year.

India, with five points, have assured themselves as the runners-up place irrespective of the late kick off between home team Nepal and Palestine.

India's qualification fate, however, will only be decided on Sept 29 following the conclusion of Group H of the qualifiers in Yangon, Myanmar.

If Palestine beat Nepal, it will increase India’s chances of claiming one of the five runners-up spots. Along with 10 group winners, five runners-up and hosts Malaysia qualify for the Finals.

Bekey Oram squandered a golden chance for India in the sixth minute.

Ricky John Shabong delivered a defence-splitting pass into the area but with just the Iraqi goalkeeper to beat, the forward shot straight into the grateful arms of Mohammed Hasan Al-Hamadani.

Ahmed Abdullah Dari Gul scored in the 23rd minute but his effort was ruled offside.

A constant Iraqi pressure nearly resulted in the defending champions taking the lead in the 28th minute as Murtafa Irmayyidh Muhi’s shot from a tight angle was blocked by Indian custodian Jongte for a corner.

Nine minutes after the resumption, India goalkeeper Jongte was called into action again, punching out a right wing effort from Murtadha Ahmed Al-Furaiji.

India got another reprieve in the 72nd minute as an unmarked Sajid Abbas Al-Lami fired wide a rebound that came off a defender from an initial Shanan strike.

In a rare India move inside the Iraqi goalmouth, substitute Harpreet, who also came off the bench against Nepal and struck twice in their 2-2 stalemate on Friday, cut through three defenders but fired at the near post for the Iraqi custodian to make an easy save. 

Ali Hadi Mohsin (Iraq coach)

"As expected, India turned out to be a tough team. They have very strong and good players but what’s important is that we achieved our goal - to make it to the final round. We played really well throughout (the qualifying campaign) and I am pleased with the way my boys performed. We still have a year before the Finals, so we have the luxury to strengthen our squad."

Bibiano Fernandes (India coach)

"It was a good game and I have no complaints whatsoever with the performance of my boys. They were exceptional throughout the Qualifiers. We needed a victory and we tried our best to secure three points but as the defending champions of the tournament, Iraq played to their billing. I believe losing points against the hosts in a draw was crucial but we still have a chance to qualify as one of the five best runners-up. And if Palestine beat Nepal, It would definitely help our cause."

Palestine beat Nepal 2-1 in an inconsequential Group D qualifying match for the AFC U-16 Championship 2018 at the Halchowk grounds in Kathmandu on Sunday.

As the top two teams were already confirmed earlier in the day with Iraq securing qualification ahead of India with a goalless draw, Palestine and Nepal had nothing to play for except pride.

Palestine finished third with three points and the hosts bottom of the table with just one.

Nepal’s attacking intent was clear from the first whistle as Randip Paudel’s shot from close range in a goalmouth melee was blocked by a Palestine defender following a Karlosh Bakhariya corner in the seventh minute.

Three minutes later Birjesh Chaudhary provided Nepal the lead, scoring from the spot. Nepal were awarded the penalty after defender Muath Barhoush tripped Akash Budha Magar inside the area.

Palestine equalised in the 28th minute when Mahmoud Wridat broke free inside the area, after a defence splitting pass from the midfield. 

He beat Nepal goalkeeper Bishal Sunar - who left his post unattended - to score.

Nepal got a big let off five minutes before the break when Palestine skipper Omar Kabha made a mess of a free header at the far post from a Abdalhadi Sakhel right flank free-kick.

In a beautiful move involving Chaudhary and Darshan Gurung, the latter was denied by a save from Palestinian goalkeeper Mohammed Hamed. Chaudhary barged into the area and passed in swiftly at the centre for Gurung to shoot at goal but his powerful attempt was acrobatically punched out to safety by Hamed.

Palestine took the lead in the 75th minute through Mahmoud Wridat who cut through two Nepali defenders inside the area and fired in past Nepal custodian Sunar after a superb pass by substitute Bashar Said from the left wing.

Said was then denied by Nepali goalkeeper Sunar, who was out of the position, and rushed in time to gather the ball in the 83rd minute but Palestine hung on to sign off their campaign with a morale boosting victory.

Yahya Jalayta (Palestine coach)

"We finally secured victory after losing two matches. The weather played a huge part in our poor showing but we managed to lift the mentality of the players, to record the victory. We are sorry for not giving Palestinians joy by failing to secure qualification. As for the Nepali team, I was stunned to see how technically sound they were as they played with a high intensity."


Sunil Kumar Shrestha (Nepal coach)

It was the worst game of the qualifying campaign. We lost against the team we had identified as the weakest in the group. I have no qualms for the first two matches, but this was a poor showing. It's a pity we ended up in the bottom. My boys lost the intensity with which they played in the first two games, they were simply burned out."

Photos: AFC