AFC U-16 Championship: Iran, Iraq motivated for final glory

Both sides endured and prevailed tough semifinal matches, as Iraq overcame tournament favourite Japan and Iran edged out defending champion DPR Korea in a tiring penalty shootout win.

Iran is sweating over the fitness of playmaker Mohammad Ghaderi and defender Saeid Ahani.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Despite having qualified for next year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup, both Iraq and Iran will not have any motivational problems in the final, the two coaches confirmed at the pre-match press conference here on Saturday.

“From the start of the tournament, our top priority was to get to the final and win the competition. We have prepared our players only to think about winning the trophy tomorrow,” said a confident Abbas Chamanian, coach of Iran.

Echoing his sentiments was Qahtan Chitheer, Iraq’s head coach. “The first target was to qualify for the World Cup (Under-17) and after that it was to become the champions of Asia. Now, I believe we can play with no pressure in the final.”

Both sides endured and prevailed tough semifinal matches, as Iraq overcame tournament favourite Japan 4-2 in the first semifinal, after trailing at the break 2-1, and Iran edged out defending champion DPR Korea in a tiring penalty shootout win.

Dawood on fire

Iraq forward Mohammed Dawood has been the main man for Thitheer’s side, scoring six goals in the last three games, including a hat-trick against Japan in the semifinals and a brace in the 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in the quarters.

“Dawood is a very good player but we have many other players that helped us reach the final. He is only one of XI,” said the coach.

Iran’s coach acknowledged his opponent’s quality. “Iraq is a very strong team that has a great attack. But we have analysed them and we know it would be of very tough match. If we want to win, the players will have to be at their very best.”

Squad updates

While Iraq, which is reaching its first ever final at the continental competition, has no fitness concerns, Iran, which has done without the services of injured captain Aref Alipour since the group stages, is sweating over the fitness of playmaker Mohammad Ghaderi and defender Saeid Ahani.

“It was a very hard game for DPR Korea,” said Charmanian. “We have had a good recovery session but tomorrow there is a chance Alipour, Ghaderi and Ahani will miss the final through injury.”

Meanwhile, Iraq’s coach Chitheer wants his boys to create history against their neighbours and win the title for the first time.

“It is true that it is our first time in the final. But we have many good players and we want to play at our best level to win the cup for the first time,” said Thitheer.