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Iraq and UAE in final showdown

Al Ram: Iraq and United Arab Emirates will contest the inaugural WAFF U-18 Championship final after both sides prevailed on penalties in Wednesday’s semi-finals at Faisal Al Husseini International Stadium.

Iraq sealed their place in the decider with a 4-2 shootout win after a 1-1 draw against Jordan, while UAE denied tournament hosts Palestine a final berth, winning 4-1 from the spot after a scoreless evening match.

Iraq and UAE will meet in Friday's decider having already crossed paths earlier in the tournament, with UAE winning last Saturday’s group stage meeting 4-2.

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IRAQ 1-1 JORDAN (Iraq win 4-2 on penalties)

Iraq became the first team to qualify for the final, ending Jordan’s campaign from the penalty spot after a 1-1 draw in the first of the semi-finals.

Goalkeeper Ahmad Merwah was Iraq’s hero, saving Jordan’s final two penalties, while Iraq didn’t put a foot wrong in the shootout to advance after Danial Afaneh and Abdulrazzaq Kadah traded goals during normal time.

Jordan came into the tie full of confidence after scoring seven goals in back to back wins over Palestine and Qatar, and it took multiple early saves from Merwah to keep them from adding to their tally.

But the weight of chances did produce a goal, in the 20th minute, and it was one worth waiting for, with Afaneh cutting in from the right flank and miraculously finding the net from an acute angle while only a few yards in from the touchline, although only he will truly know if it was intended as a shot or a cross.

Jordan had chances to add to their lead, but they conceded a penalty in the dying moments of the first half, with Kadah drawing Iraq level, and foreshadowing what was to come just over an hour later, by confidently converting from the spot.

Both teams generated opportunities after the break, and substitute Sief Addeen ElBashabsheh came within inches of winning it for Jordan, but when his header flashed wide in the 84th minute the shadow of penalties began to loom large.

Afaneh and Mohammad Abu Taha both scored to get the Jordanians off to a promising start in the shootout - with Iraq keeping the pace with successful attempts of their own - but Merwah denied both Aon Al Maharmeh and Mohannad Semreen with low saves, allowing Kadah to put the finishing touch on Iraq’s win with his second successful penalty of the match.

UAE 0-0 PALESTINE (UAE win 4-1 on penalties)

United Arab Emirates advanced to the decider thanks a flawless penalty performance, netting all four their spot-kicks to eliminate tournament host Palestine with a 4-1 shootout win after the match ended 0-0 after 90 mins.

The result maintained UAE’s unbeaten record in the competition and set up a final against an Iraqi side they convincingly beat in their Group B match less than a week ago.

Both UAE and Palestine came into the tie having found their shooting boots in their previous fixtures, but few clear-cut chances materialised in an opening half where they largely cancelled each other out.

Ahmed Al Hammadi’s free-kick forced Palestine goalkeeper Mohammed Hamed into a save just before half time, but it was often the hosts who generated the opportunities – both in quality and quantity – after the break.

Substitute Hazza Al Jneibi, influential in UAE’s 4-2 win over Iraq on Saturday, had a late chance to win it for the visitors, but Hamed raced off his line to prevent him from capitalising on a Palestinian defensive error and penalties were required to break the stalemate for the second match in a row.

While nothing could separate the sides over 90 minutes, UAE were a cut above in the shootout.

Mohammed Direya and Ali Rabei both missed the target for Palestine, who converted just one of their three attempts, while UAE netted all four of theirs, with Harib Al Maazmi doing the honours of converting the final kick to send them to Friday’s decider.

Now out of contention for the title, Palestine will meet Jordan in Friday’s play-off for third, while Qatar and Bahrain will meet to decide fifth and sixth place on Thursday.

The WAFF U-18 Championship is serving as valuable exposure for the teams ahead of the 2020 AFC U-19 Championship Qualifiers in November.

Photos: Palestine Football Association

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