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Isa Town: Saudi Arabia secured a place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017 and a 2016 AFC U-19 Championship semi-final berth on Sunday evening with a 6-5 win in a sudden death penalty shootout over Iraq at Khalifa Sports City Stadium after 120 minutes of regular and extra time ended in a 2-2 draw.

Amin Al Bukhari saved Ali Hussein’s opening penalty to give the Saudis an early advantage but a final round miss by captain Sami Al Naji took the shootout into sudden death where Awn Al Saluli scored the winning penalty after Iraq’s Safaa Hadi had seen his kick saved in the seventh round.

Rakan Al Anaze had opened the scoring in the 65th minute before setting up Abdulrahman Al Yami to double Saudi Arabia’s lead four minutes later, but two goals in three minutes from Sajjad Hussein and Mazin Fayyadh saw Iraq draw level and the game go into extra time.

The additional period of 30 minutes was not enough to separate the sides and the game went to spot kicks, where Al Bukhari’s pair of saves marked him out as the hero for the Korea Republic-bound Saudis.

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The Iraqis had controlled a relatively uneventful first half but, despite having plenty of possession inside Saudi territory, Abbas Atiyah’s side were unable to make it count with clear-cut chances in a half in which neither side seriously threatened.

That was a pattern that continued into the first 20 minutes of the second half, as both sides probed and prodded one another as they looked for an opening.

Al Anaze swung his free kick from the left towards the Iraqi goal in the 54th minute, but Fahad Al Harbi narrowly missed making contact while nine minutes later Alaa Abbas squandered a golden opportunity when he headed Mohammed Kareem’s driven cross from the far left touchline across goal and wide of the post.

It was a miss Iraq were to rue as, two minutes later, the Saudis took the lead when a rapid break ended with the ball at Al Anaze’s feet on the edge of the area and he turned to slot his bouncing right foot shot into the bottom left corner of Hasanain Mohommed’s goal.

Waleed Kareem threatened the Saudi goal soon after before Saad Al Shehri’s side punished Iraq again, with Al Anaze turning provider this time with a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Al Yami, who held off defender Ali Hussein before curling his shot coolly around Mohammed.

Those goals finally jolted Iraq’s forward line into life and, with 15 minutes to go, the deficit was halved when substitute Sajjad Hussein bundled the ball over the line from close range while, three minutes later, Fayyadh restored parity when he thumped his shot into the roof of the net from six yards out.

Both sides pushed for the winner but, despite tiring limbs and difficult conditions, neither could find a way through and the game went to penalties, with Al Bukhari’s making two shootout saves to end the game as the hero.

Photo: AFC

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