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Ali strike seals maiden title for Sousa’s Bahrain

Karbala: A solitary goal from Isa Moosa Ali helped Bahrain to their first WAFF Championship title, beating tournament hosts Iraq 1-0 in the final at Karbala Sports City on Wednesday.

The 30-year-old struck shortly before half-time to silence the capacity crowd, before Bahrain held on to become the competition’s sixth winners since it was held for the first time in 2000.

Bahrain’s win caps a spectacular start to life at the helm for Portuguese head coach Hélio Sousa, who emerges from his first tournament in charge of the side with a regional title and four consecutive clean sheets.

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In front of an expectant home crowd, and on a scorching Karbala evening, Iraq had plenty of the ball but little of the early chances, while the visitors looked for counter-attacking opportunities through Ali and Mohamed Al Romaihi.

Despite the contrasting styles, neither goalkeeper was kept particularly busy before Bahrain took the lead in spectacular style through Ali in the 39th minute.

In a half where neither team had been afforded much space in the final third, Ali went temporarily unnoticed to find plenty of room on the left-hand side, then – after being played in by Mohamed Abdulwahab Shaban – emphatically slammed the ball high past Iraqi goalkeeper Jalal Hasan at his near post to make it 1-0 from eight yards.

It had been Mohanad Abdulraheem who had dragged Iraq back into the contest from behind to beat Palestine earlier in the tournament, and the Al Zawraa forward looked to do the same here, but this time he was unable to conjure a quick reply as his header flew over the crossbar to close out the first-half.

Srečko Katanec’s men had 45 minutes to turn the final around but, unfortunately for the hosts, the early stages of the second half largely followed the precedent set before the interval. Iraq had ample possession, but a vigilant Bahrain defence meant genuine scoring chances remained a rarity.

In fact, it was the visitors that created one of the better openings in the match when Al Romiahi forced Hasan into an important near post save in the 55th minute, shortly before Alaa Abbas came the closest any Iraqi player had so far with a header that went narrowly over the crossbar after a fine Dhurgam Ismail cross.

The intensity of Iraq’s search for the equaliser only increased as the minutes ticked away, with Mahdi Kamil and Amjed Attwan both sending the ball wide of the target with efforts in the latter stages.

But despite the best efforts of the hosts, and the hopes of the majority of the 34,500 in attendance, Iraq’s goal never came, and their night ended in further frustration when Ahmed Ibrahim was sent off in the fifth minute of added time.

With three goals in the tournament, Iraq’s Hussein Ali won both the top scorer and MVP awards, but it was Bahrain’s time to celebrate after completing a dream start to Sousa’s tenure.

Photos: AFP

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