Abdullatif sends Bahrain to decider, Jordan finish on a high
Erbil: A solitary goal from Ismaeel Abdullatif was enough to take Bahrain to their first ever WAFF Championship final as they beat Kuwait 1-0 to finish as Group B winners in Iraq on Saturday.
Bahrain’s opponents in Wednesday’s final will be decided on Sunday, with Iraq, Palestine and Yemen all in contention to advance from Group A.
Earlier, also at Franso Hariri Stadium, already-eliminated Jordan cruised to a 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia to finish the competition as group runners-up.
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KUWAIT 0-1 BAHRAIN
Nothing less than a win would do for Bahrain, and an 80th-minute header from Abdullatif ensured they got it, with the 32-year-old forward emerging as the matchwinner for the second time in less than a week to send his side to the final and break Kuwaiti hearts.
Abdullatif’s goal, his 41st at international level, was decisive not only on the night, but in the group itself, with Kuwait – who needed only a draw the match to reach the decider themselves - ultimately tumbling down to third place.
With the Group B table turning Saturday’s match into a virtual semi-final, both sides attacked in an entertaining opening. Abdullatif sent an early header narrowly wide, shortly before finding himself through on goal, or so he thought, with Fahad Al Hajeri producing a sensational last-ditch tackle to deny him a shooting opportunity.
While Bahrain’s veteran forward was causing trouble at one end, Kuwait’s evergreen Bader Al Mutawa issued a reminder of his qualities when he snaked past two defenders before forcing a save from Hamad Al Doseri at the half-hour mark.
There was little respite from the goalmouth action as a powerful long-range free-kick from Denmark-based Bahrain defender Mohamed Hardan stung goalkeeper Hasan Abdulghafour’s palms at one end, before Al Doseri came up with a crucial save to deny Faisal Al Azami at the other as the first half, somehow, ended goalless.
Abdullatif had been the hero in Bahrain’s opening day win over Jordan, but his series of near-misses continued after the break, blasting an effort over the bar from close-range in the 53rd minute before Abdulghafour stood firm once again to deny him from close range 13 minutes later as Bahrain’s window of opportunity began to close.
With 10 minutes remaining, and Kuwait needing only to see them out without conceding to reach the final, Abdullatif was finally rewarded for his persistence when he scored Bahrain’s breakthrough goal, improvising to steer Kamil Al Aswad’s effort into the net with an excellent header and putting Hélio Sousa’s side on top of the group.
Kuwait searched for the late equaliser that would have salvaged their hopes of a place in the final but it didn’t materialise, leaving Bahrain to prepare for Wednesday’s tournament decider, which gives them the chance to become WAFF champions for the first time.
JORDAN 3-0 SAUDI ARABIA
Jordan ended their campaign with a 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia, scoring three second-half goals to finish second in Group B with four points.
Both teams came into the match with their group stage elimination having been confirmed on Wednesday, but Jordan ensured they ended on a positive note, while Saudi Arabia left Iraq without a win and with the lowest points total in the competition.
Jordan started the contest on the front foot, but it was Saudi striker Haroune Camara who had one of the brightest openings of a scoreless first half, forcing an excellent save from Ahmad Nawwas in the 35th minute.
Ahmad Ersan went close to finding a Jordanian opener when his half-volley went narrowly over the crossbar in the first of several chances early in the second half, but it was Saeed Al Murjan who had the Midas touch in front of goal, superbly steering a header into the top corner from an accurate Ersan cross to make it 1-0.
Saudi Arabia remained within striking distance until late in the match, but Jordan found breathing space when they added a second in the second minute of stoppage time thanks to a precise low effort from Yousef Rawshdeh.
Things went from bad to worse for Saudi Arabia when goalkeeper Mustafa Malaeka spilled the ball, then fouled Hamza Al Dardour to earn a straight red card, forcing striker Camara to spend the final moments in goal, and allowing Feras Shilbaya to slot home the final goal from the penalty spot eight minutes into added time.
Saturday’s match was Saudi Arabia’s last under interim coach Yousef Anbar, with Frenchman Hervè Renard to take over ahead of the start of their Asian Qualifiers campaign next month.
Photos: Iraq Football Association
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