Iraq and Palestine complete semi-final cast
Al Ram: Iraq and Palestine confirmed their places in the 2019 WAFF U-18 Championship semi-finals, joining already-qualified Jordan and UAE in the final four after Monday’s closing group stage matches.
Iraq sealed their place in the knockout round with an impressive 2-1 win over Bahrain in Group B, while hosts Palestine survived a dramatic Group A finale against Qatar to advance after a 2-2 draw.
The inaugural WAFF U-18 Championship semi-finals will be staged on Wednesday, with the regional youth champions to be decided on Friday.
The tournament is serving as valuable exposure for the teams ahead of the Qualifiers for the 2020 AFC U-19 Championship which will be held in November.
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BAHRAIN 1-2 IRAQ
Iraq retained second place in Group B to advance to the semi-finals, scoring in either half to defeat Bahrain 2-1 at the Faisal Husseini International Stadium.
Hussein Khudhair gave the Iraqis a 1-0 half-time lead, with Zainulabdeen Chitheer effectively sealing their place in the knockout stage before Abdulrahman Mohamed’s last-gasp penalty kick provided Bahrain with some late consolation.
Iraq’s win sets up a semi-final clash against Jordan on Wednesday, while Bahrain, eliminated from title contention, will play off for fifth place against Qatar on Thursday.
Needing only a draw to advance, Iraq looked a cut above from the early stages, and their ascendancy was rewarded when Khudhair steered home the opener after a surging run through midfield by Muntadher Jebur.
Needing to win on the day to advance, Bahrain struggled to generate opportunities of their own, with Iraqi goalkeeper Ahmad Merwah seldom tested before Chitheer netted the second goal in the 84th minute.
Having replaced Khudhair 13 minutes prior, Chitheer found space in the left-hand channel before beating Bahraini shot-stopper Abdulla Al Anbar at his near post to give his side the added breathing space of a two-goal buffer.
Bahrain did manage to find the net when Mohamed converted a 90th-minute penalty following a foul on Salem Husain Salem, but it was Iraq’s day In the sun, as their focus shifts to Wednesday’s meeting with Jordan.
PALESTINE 2-2 QATAR
Tournament hosts Palestine emerged from a see-sawing final Group A clash with the point they needed to advance to the last four after earning a 2-2 draw against Qatar in the later match.
Anas Baniowda was the local hero with two goals for Palestine, who came from behind to take the lead with 25 minutes remaining, with Naif Al Hadhrami’s late equaliser not enough to take Qatar through to the knockout stage.
Palestine will now meet UAE in Wednesday’s semi-final, while Qatar’s last chance for a win will come against Bahrain in Thursday’s play-off for fifth.
Eager to atone for Saturday’s 5-1 loss at the hands of Jordan, Qatar made a dream start to the final match of the group stage when they took the lead through Osamah Al Tairi in the sixth minute.
Al Tairi finished off an opening he created himself with a surging run forward, forcing home the loose ball after Jassim Al Mehairi’s initial effort was saved by Palestine goalkeeper Mohammed Hamed.
Both teams had opportunities to add to the first-half scoring, but it was Palestine who found a crucial equaliser five minutes before half-time, with Baniowda’s left foot effort sneaking in under Mohamed Al Aswhal at his near post in a moment unlikely to be remembered fondly by the Qatari goalkeeper.
Baniowda’s second, scored in the 65th minute, bore several similarities to his first. The same touch around a defender to make a yard of space, the same low-trajectory left-footed strike on goal and the same result were all there, as Palestine went in front for the first time in the match at 2-1 ahead.
Qatar now needed two goals to avoid elimination, but their chances took a blow when Khaled Ali Binsabaa was shown a straight red card for an off the ball incident in the 85th minute, becoming the third Qatari player in two matches to be dismissed.
Al Hadhrami managed to level the match with a well-taken stoppage time equaliser, but while it prevented defeat on the night, it changed little in the group standings as Palestine celebrated their progression to the final four.
Photos: Palestine Football Association
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