Karbala: Hosts Iraq sealed their place in the 2019 WAFF Championship final with a 2-1 win over Yemen, while Palestine prevailed in a seven-goal epic against Syria as Group A concluded at Karbala Sports City on Sunday.
Iraq’s win sets up a meeting with Group B winners Bahrain in Wednesday’s decider, where the Lions of Mesopotamia will target their first WAFF title since 2002.
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IRAQ 2-1 YEMEN
Three teams came into the final day with a chance of joining Bahrain in the final, but the hosts emerged as group winners with a 2-1 win which eliminated opponents Yemen, as well as the waiting Palestine.
Iraq passed their final group stage test with flying colours, scoring twice before half-time to effectively stamp their tickets to the decider before Yemen narrowed the margin with a consolatory late goal from Abdulwasea Al Matari.
While a draw would have done, Srečko Katanec’s side emerged with an attacking verve that suggested they were pursuing nothing less than a win and put Yemen on the back foot from the off.
The breakthrough game in the 26th minute, when promising 19-year-old Ibrahim Bavesh Al Kaabawi latched onto Mahdi Kamel’s accurate cross from the left, taking a touch before heading the bouncing ball into net.
Yemen needed a win to qualify for their first ever WAFF Championship final, but Iraq went further ahead just five minutes later as Hussein Ali netted his third goal of the tournament, and second from the penalty spot, after Alaa Abbas was fouled by Mudir Al Radaei.
The hosts had opportunities to add to their tally in the second half, but it was the impressive Al Matari who netted the game’s final goal, dribbling past a succession of Iraqi defenders before beating Mohammed Farhan to make it 2-1 in the 90th minute.
Al Matari’s strike, his second in as many matches, was a positive note to end on for Yemen, but came too late to be of any consequence as Iraq turn their attention to Wednesday’s final.
PALESTINE 4-3 SYRIA
Sunday’s earlier match delivered no shortage of drama, as Palestine temporarily kept their hopes alive with a thrilling 4-3 win over already-eliminated Syria.
Needing to win to the match and hope Sunday’s other result fell in their favour, Palestine ultimately found the winning goal through substitute Mohammed Yamin who scored in the 90th minute to finally decide a match of wild momentum swings.
Noureddine Ould Ali’s side made the worst possible start in their bid to advance, leaving Khaled Mbayed unmarked to score a simple tap-in inside three minutes, but Islam Batran punished a fumble by Syrian goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma to get Palestine back on track just before half-time.
Two goals in two minutes from exciting forward Oday Dabbagh – the first from the penalty spot, the second the result of a dreadful error from Syrian defender Abdullah Al Shami – gave Palestine a commanding 3-1 lead after 62 minutes, but, playing only for pride, Syria refused to wilt.
Firas Al Khatib, who had come on as a substitute shortly after half-time, pulled a goal back from the penalty spot in the 66th minute, before another replacement, Mardek Mardkian, headed home to make it 3-3 just seven minutes later.
With their hopes on the verge of being dashed, Palestine found the decisive goal at the eleventh-hour, with Yamin volleying home from five yards after Dabbagh’s initial effort had been kept out by Alma’s leg.
Yamin’s goal was enough to claim three points, but Iraq’s win later on Sunday meant it couldn’t save Palestine from elimination, with Ould Ali’s side ending Group A in second place, while winless Syria finished last.
Photos: Iraq Football Association
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