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Iraq win penalty thriller to make semis

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Taipei: Iraq will make their first-ever appearance in the AFC Futsal Championship semi-finals after a 9-8 penalty shootout win over Lebanon following a 2-2 draw on Thursday at University of Taipei Gymnasium.

Goalkeeper Zaher Mahdi was Iraq’s hero saving the match-ending penalty with a smart dive to his right to deny Mustafa Rhyem.

Having appeared in 10 editions of the competition, the Iraqis finally broke new ground in reaching the final four, progressing from the quarter-final phase at their third attempt.

Although Lebanon controlled the tempo for the opening periods, it was Iraq who took the lead from a route one play.

Starting goalkeeper Yahya Abdulnoor’s long throw upfield caught Lebanon’s backline out as Salim Faisal lost his marker to volley past ‘keeper Hussein Hamadani.

The scores were drawn level midway through the half, though, as Lebanon captain Kasem Koussam polished off a quick-fire move involving Ahmad Kheir El Dine and Ali El Homsi with an assured finish.

Abdulnoor then had to stretch out a leg to turn Karim Abou Zeid’s low shot around the post as the Lebanese finished on top at the interval.

The Cedars didn’t let up after the break and Ali Tneich put his side 2-1 up just a minute and a half into the second half. The number 10 was found on the right flank by Mohamad Kobeissy and his shot deflected past a wrong-footed Abdulnoor.

Iraq responded to going behind and Kobeisssy had to be on his toes to clear at the feet of Waleed Khalid, before Zainal Abdeen hit the post.

But the Iraqi pressure eventually told with Faisal adding his second of the night with an assured finish to tie the scores.

Kheir El Dine had a golden chance to re-take the lead for Lebanon with just over a minute remaining but Abdulnoor was equal to his close-range effort, and the Iraq custodian continued to deny Lebanon with a series of saves as the white-shirted side tried in vain to find the winner in regulation time.

In extra-time, Kheir El Dine could have broken the deadlock when he evaded Faisal and rounded Abdulnoor but he couldn’t steer his shot into the unguarded net from an acute angle. And the goalkeepers continued to remain on top for the duration of the additional 10 minutes with the tie going to penalties.

Kheir El Dine failed to convert Lebanon’s very first penalty but Hasan Dakheel failed to take advantage when 2-1 up in what would have been the match-winner.

From then-on every player that stepped up successfully converted until Rhyem, the 20th penalty-taker of the tie, was the most unfortunate man on the pitch as his spot-kick was saved to send Iraq into the semi-final, and scenes of joy amongst their players.

Shahab Sofalmanesh: Lebanon coach

"We were very unlucky in the game. But I mentioned from the first day of this tournament, that we were here to show the quality of the Lebanese players, their talents and their potential. I would like to congratulate the team on their performance. This is the first step of development of futsal in our country. The knockout stage is a special game, not like a normal game. From the first minute to the last minute, all my players showed high effort and concentration. We created many chances today but I have to say the Iraq goalkeeper was the best player on the pitch today. He was fabulous, sometimes it was even 2-against-1 and he still did great. We hit the posts and woodwork but couldn’t get the winner. In penalties you have to get luck, and we just didn’t get that luck. These boys are real treasures of Lebanon and they worked so hard for the last 10 months and in the future they will achieve many great things. I have to say congratulations for Iraq for winning the game."

Haitham Abbas: Iraq coach

"This is a historical day for Iraq. We played Lebanon previously in a friendly some months ago and we studied their mistakes and were able to take advantage of those today. We did concede some goals through some mistakes, but nevertheless it’s a celebrating day for Iraq at home and here amongst the players. We were all waiting for this moment, waiting to get into the semi-final and finally we did it. You can see the development of the Iraqi team in the results of the national team and the club teams, it’s all thanks to the development done by the federation back home to help get this team to among the final four sides in Asia."

Photos: AFC