Iraq clinches its maiden AFC U-16 title after shootout

Iraq won its first ever AFC Under-16 Championship after beating neighbour Iran in a tense penalty shootout 4-3 in the final on Sunday.

Iraq v Iran, Iraq, AFC Cup, Under-16

Iraq celebrates after clinching the AFC Under-16 Cup on debut, in Margao on Sunday.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Debutant finalist Iraq won its first ever AFC Under-16 Championship as it beat neighbour Iran in a tense penalty shootout 4-3, here on Sunday. With 90 minutes failing to produce a goal, the game was decided by a shootout as Mohammed Dawood slotted home the decisive penalty and sent the team dugout into absolute ecstasy.

Iraq was off the blocks quickly, as talisman Dawood almost put the team ahead in the second minute. But his shot, from six yards out, missed the target, much to the relief of the Iranian keeper Ali Gholam.

Iraq just built from there on as it manufactured chance after chance, with Mohammed Dawood, the team’s standout player throughout the tournament, being a constant thorn in the opposition defence. He kept finding space behind the back-line but the execution in the final third kept deserting him as Iran was content playing the waiting game.

The teams went in to the break deadlocked at 0-0.

Second half was more of the same as Iraq continued to bombard the opposition goal, as a cocktail of bad luck and poor finishing prevented it from going ahead. In the 60th minute, Dawood found himself in front of the goalpost after being released by a through ball down the middle, but his side-footed effort crashed against the right-hand post.

Chances were going a begging for Iraq and it was Ali Kareem’s turn to go close. In the 80th minute, the second-half substitute cut in from the left flank and let one fly. Iran’s custodian Gholam was rooted to the spot as he saw the ball crash onto the crossbar. The threat wasn’t yet fully thwarted as the ball fell to Iraq skipper Mohammed Ridha. His follow-up shot was smartly saved by Gholam as the ball went out for a harmless corner.

Possibly tired from an intensive penalty shootout win against DPR korea in the semifinal, Iran was content to play on the counter as it hardly created chances.

Iraq’s profligacy in front of goal did not haunt the team as Mohammed Dawood was rightfully the taker of the winning penalty.

Dawood was awarded the Most Valuable Player at the post-match awards ceremony as he ended the tournament as top scorer with six goals.