2016 Olympic hopes shattered for UAE as they fall to Iraq at AFC U23 Championships

Iraq stepped up in extra time and went on to beat the UAE 3-1 in the last of the AFC U23 Championships quarter-finals to secure a showdown with Japan in the last four on Tuesday, writes Ali Khaled.

UAE Under 23s coach Abdullah Misfir. Courtesy UAE FA
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Iraq stepped up in extra time and went on to beat the UAE 3-1 in the last of the AFC U23 Championships quarter-finals to secure a showdown with Japan in the last four on Tuesday.

The loss ends any hopes for the UAE of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Only the top three teams from the tournament will get an automatci bid.

Abdul Ghani Shadad’s men started the better of the two teams but despite having the majority of possession they rarely threatened Ahmad Shambih in the UAE goal.

The UAE’s injury curse, which saw them lose three players in the first half against Vietnam, struck again after only nine minutes when Salem Sultan had to depart and was replaced by Saif Khalfan.

Read more: UAE through to AFC U23 Championship quarter-finals after 3-2 win over Vietnam

The UAE should have gone ahead on 18 minutes when Yousif Saeed hit the bar from close range and the Iraqi goalkeeper looked to have bundled the ball onto the post and behind the line. The referee ruled that the ball had not crossed.

Five minutes later Mohanad Abdulraheem had a chance but volleyed wide from Ali Husny’s dangerous cross. With Ahmed Al Akberi, arguably the UAE’s player of the tournament, and Iraq’s talented Humam Tareq kept in check by both defences, another half time stalemate was no surprise.

Iraq continued to have the majority of possession in the second half and Ali Faez almost broke the deadlock on 55 minutes but his curling free-kick was tipped over by Shambih.

In the 69th minute Saeed’s sensational volley was met with an even better save by Fahad Talib in the Iraq goal.

As in their three group matches, the UAE’s attacking intent increased in the latter stages of the second period, but Abdullah Misfir’s men still could not create many clear cut chances.

The breakthrough for the UAE finally came with 15 minutes left, when Ahmed Akberi’s cross was turned into his own net by Alaa Mhawi. The lead lasted only a minute with Iraq equalising after a mistake by Mohammed Surour in the heart of the UAE defence.

The match went into extra time but not before a head injury forced Al Akberi off the pitch to be replaced by Ahmed Al Attas.

Twelve minutes into the first period of extra time Abdulraheem volleyed home from Amjad Kadhim’s headed pass to give Iraq the lead. Kadhim completed the scoring in the dying seconds as the UAE threw everything into attack.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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