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Football: Iraq win first AFC U-22 Championship in Muscat

Iraq captain Ahmed Ibrahim receives the trophy from Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa (centre), President of the Asian Football Confederation, after Iraq beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 to win the inaugural AFC U-22 Championship in Oman. Photo: AFP.

Iraq captain Ahmed Ibrahim receives the trophy from Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa (centre), President of the Asian Football Confederation, after Iraq beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 to win the inaugural AFC U-22 Championship. Photo: AFP.

January 27, 2014: Iraq were crowned winners of the inaugural AFC U-22 Championship on Sunday evening as Hakeem Shakir’s side secured the title with a goal from Mohanad Abdulraheem in a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in Oman.


The 2012 AFC Youth Player of the Year gave Iraq the lead in the 33rd minute with his first goal in the tournament, just four minutes after Saudi Arabia midfielder Abdulfattah Asiri had seen his penalty crash against the post at Seeb Sports Complex in Muscat.


Although an exciting, open climax to the tournament saw a series of chances at either end, neither side could add to the scoreline after Abdulraheem’s opener, with goalkeepers Jalal Hassan and Ahmad Al Harbi in inspired form.


Iraq became the tournament’s first-ever winners, doing so with a 100 per cent record having won every one of their group stage fixtures, and then beating Japan and Korea Republic in the knockout stages to reach the final.


After a cagey opening, the match exploded into life on 15 minutes after a throw-in from Dhurgham Dawood deep into the Saudi Arabia half was flicked on by Abdulraheem to be met with a spectacular scissor kick from Marwan Al Ajeeli. However, the acrobatic effort was well saved by an alert Al Harbi, who threw himself to his left to push the ball wide.


An injury-ravaged Saudi Arabia team had started the game with five players on the sick list and then suffered yet more bad luck after 21 minutes as captain Motaz Hawsawi was stretchered off the field. In the defensive reshuffle that ensued, Al Ajeeli nearly took advantage, being afforded too much space to get away a shot from 20 yards that was saved by the Saudi Arabia keeper.


The white-clad Saudis instantly responded as striker Saleh Al Shehri smashed a fierce shot on goal and Iraq goalkeeper Hassan did well to save with a strong left hand.


Just before the half-hour mark, defender Ali Bahjat’s handball inside his own penalty area gave Asiri a golden chance to open the scoring for Saudi Arabia. But the midfielder, who converted successfully from the spot against Jordan in the semi-final, drove his penalty against Hassan’s right-hand post and the ball ricocheted wide.


Asiri’s error was punished just three minutes later as Al Ajeeli dinked the ball through to Abdulraheem, whose composed finish rolled past an already committed Al Harbi and into the bottom corner.


In the second half, Bahjat went close to doubling the lead as the Iraq left-back blasted a free-kick from 25 yards out that whistled narrowly wide. A flurry of substitutions for both sides broke up the frenetic tempo as the game reached a temporary lull but the pace picked up again as Saudi Arabia gained a renewed sense of urgency, which Iraq responded to, inside the final 20 minutes.


First Al Shehri went close with a firm header from Abdullah Al Ammar’s left wing cross which a diving Hassan blocked on 70 minutes. Just four minutes later Hassan had to make another diving save from a powerful long-range effort by Saudi Arabia substitute Mohammed Majrashi.


Iraq replied through a header from Mahdi Kamil and a well struck free-kick from substitute Ali Faez but, again, Al Harbi was equal to their efforts with two instinctive saves.


Iraq defender Waleed Salim was dismissed from the contest deep into injury time following two bookable offences in as many minutes, but Saudi Arabia could not beat Hassan nor the clock as the referee ended the game to the delight of the passionate congregation of Iraqi fans.


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Source: AFC

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