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India holds defending Champions Iraq to qualify for AFC U-16 Championship 2018

Written by: Punit Tripathi

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Vikram Pratap Singh and Lalbiakhlua put in tremendous displays as India-Iraq ends goalless.

The U-16 Indian National team played out a goalless draw against the mighty Iraqis in their last qualifier for the AFC U-16 Championships 2018. The team had defeated Palestine handsomely and had a nervy 2-2 against neighbours and rivals Nepal. With Palestine defeating Nepal 2-1 in the last game of the group D, its confirms India qualification to AFC U-16 Championship 2018.

This year's qualification system has been very confusing to fathom. Before the tournament began, United Arab Emirates pulled out from Group E, leaving the group with just three teams. While there was no balance already due to the uneven number of sides (several groups had as many as five teams), the AFC decided that the second spot would be decided keeping the results against the fourth and fifth placed team out of consideration.

India's result, thus, depended on Palestine and Nepal, as the two sides were vying for the fourth spot. India's draw against Nepal would've hurt them bad, but Palestine's 2-1 eased the table in India's favour, the Blue Colts having defeated Palestine 3-0, who're currently third in Group D. The Group H games are still left to be played, but India has certainly qualified for the AFC U-16 championship, being the best placed second-placed teams in all groups as of now, with four points in two games (excluding the result against Nepal).

Bibiano Fernandes’ boys display some good, mature football as they held on to one point. 

Both teams started on an equal footing and displayed the desire to press hard in the first few minutes. Iraq had the first corner of the game in as early as in the 4th minute, but couldn’t do much of it. In the 6th minute, Ricky lobbed a through ball to a running Bekey, who tried to place the ball into the far corner, but couldn’t connect well.

India were the better side in the first quarter of the hour, with captain Vikram Pratap Singh working hard in the attacking third to create chances. In the 17th minute, a long ball comes in from Sailo into the Iraq box, Bekey tries to control it, and the goalkeeper makes a mess of the collection but tidies it. In the midfield, Iraq looked the better side aerially.


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Three minutes later, Vikram steals possession from the Iraq midfield, and makes a run. Plays it wide left to Ravi, who crosses it in, but is cleared out. Three minutes later, Iraq scored from a poor defensive display from India, only to be ruled offside. In the 25th minute, Iraq got its best chance from open play as a long ball came into No. 11, who controlled it well in the box and volleyed hard to Lalbiakhlua, only to be saved well.

India got a free-kick in the 27th minute. Set-piece expert Givson Singh delivered a curler, only to be headed out. The next minute, Iraq attackers were on the prowl and Lalbiakhlua was again the savior. India defenders showed their first major goof-up of the game as a shot came in from the right. The Indian No. 1 made another brilliant save.

Two minutes later, Iraq came close once again. After getting cleared from a corner, Iraq No. 11 crossed a delicious curler just behind the first post. The ball was headed over by an Iraqi counterpart. One minute after the half-an-hour-mark, India got a free-kick close to the left corner. Ravi sent a ball on the second post, only to be headed wide by Thoiba. The game went on in a similar flow, with both teams losing a lot of balls in the midfield.

In the 40th minute, Iraq got another corner. The ball was played close to a defender, who shot well over. Two minutes later, India countered on a 3-vs-3 situation, and Vikram playing another important role. The captain played the ball wide right to an onrushing John, who crossed it into the opposition goalkeeper’s arms. The teams went into the tunnel with the score tied 0-0.

After the restart, India started the proceedings. Winning a free-kick in the 48th minute, Ravi blasted the chance into the Iraq wall from distance. Three minutes later, India won another free-kick on the left, with Ravi curling this one in. It was headed behind by the Iraq defense. Six minutes before the hour mark, Iraq had a chance. The opposition striker made a good shot, only to be save by Lalbiakhlua again.

Iraq had the major share of possession in the first quarter of the second half. Two minutes before the hour, Iraq got a corner and curled it over the net. A minute later, India created a chance out of nowhere, but Bekey should’ve done better from Vikram’s tap down. In the 60-70th minute, Indian defenders Thoiba Moirangthem and Shabas Ahmad received treatments as they went down to challenges from Iraq, the game turning a little headed. The referee, though, kept things under control.

In the 71st minute, Iraq create another move, exchange passes in the Indian box, and try to lob one in, only to put it over the top bar. Three minutes later, Iraq No. 10 received a little medical treatment and walked off, only to come back into the game. Bibiano Fernandes sent in Harpreet in the place of Ravi a minute later to affect proceedings.

Harpreet did exactly what was expected of him, winning a free kick in the 79th minute, which Givson sent wide, and making a darting run in the box and trying a shot, albeit weak. With just 10 minutes to go, the game turned box-to-box. Indian captain Vikram Singh was one of the brightest sparks for the Colts, and his injury in the 84th minute gave some respite to the Iraqi defenders. Iraqi put the ball into the net in the 91st minute, but they had fouled Gurkirat in the process.

AFC U-16 Championship 2018 Qualifiers Group D Standing

Melvin came on to create an impact in place of Sailo, but did not have much to do. The game ended goalless, and India’s qualification depends on the Nepal-Palestine encounter later today. Iraq have qualified for the AFC U-16 Championship to be played in 2018. Vikram Pratap Singh, Lalbiakhlua, Givson, Bekey and Gurkirat can be named as one of the finest finds of the tournament.

"It was a good game and I have no complaints whatsoever with the performance of my boys. They were exceptional throughout the Qualifiers. We needed a victory and we tried our best to secure three points but as the defending champions of the tournament, Iraq played to their billing. I believe losing points against the hosts in a draw was crucial but we still have a chance to qualify as one of the five best runners-up. And if Palestine beat Nepal, It would definitely help our cause."

Ali Hadi Mohsin (Iraq coach)

"As expected, India turned out to be a tough team. They have very strong and good players but what’s important is that we achieved our goal - to make it to the final round. We played really well throughout (the qualifying campaign) and I am pleased with the way my boys performed. We still have a year before the Finals, so we have the luxury to strengthen our squad."

Bibiano Fernandes (India coach)

"It was a good game and I have no complaints whatsoever with the performance of my boys. They were exceptional throughout the Qualifiers. We needed a victory and we tried our best to secure three points but as the defending champions of the tournament, Iraq played to their billing. I believe losing points against the hosts in a draw was crucial but we still have a chance to qualify as one of the five best runners-up. And if Palestine beat Nepal, It would definitely help our cause."

Published: Sun Sep 24, 2017 10:24 PM IST

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