Iraq edges India on penalties in a heated contest to reach the King’s Cup Final

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Iraq was awarded a late penalty dashing India’s hopes of making it to the final

Playing their first match since winning the SAFF Championships in July, India‘s unbeaten streak eventually came to an end against Iraq. Naorem Mahesh Singh gave the Blue Tigers an early lead but his goal was equalized with a perfectly taken penalty by Al-Hamadi. 

In the second half, Manvir Singh again gave India the lead courtesy of an own goal from Iraq’s goalkeeper but a dramatic penalty given by Aymen Ghadban equalized the match for the second time. The match was taken to penalties and the Lions eventually prevailed 5-4 in the shootout.

In the absence of Sunil Chettri, India’s top custodian, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was leading the pack. Igor Stimac decided to go with the defense of Nikhil Poojary, Anwar Ali, Sandesh Jhingan, and Akash Mishra guarding the skipper. 

Anirudh Thapa, Jeakson Singh, and Sahal Abdul Samad were given midfield duties while Naorem Mahesh Singh, Ashique Kuriniyan, and Manvir Singh were the designated attackers.

Similarly, Iraq was also led by their goalkeeper, Jalal Hasan, who was supported by Hussein Ali, Rebin Sulaka, Frans Putros, and Merchas Doski in defense. Amir Al-Ammari and Osama Rashid formed a double-pivot ahead of the defenders while Ibrahim Bayesh, H. Ali, and Bashar Resan had the duty to make chances for the lone striker, Ali Al-Hamadi. 

In the first 15 minutes, Iraq had most of the ball and tried to test the Indian defenders several times and the partnership of Ali and Jhingan kept them at bay with regular clearances and blocks. In the 9th minute, a well-delivered free-kick was almost met by an Iraqi player inside India’s penalty area but Gurpreet palmed the ball away from danger.

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After Mahesh’s goal, the Blue Tigers rejoiced

The Blue Tigers finally managed to capitalize on an offensive move in the 16th minute after a flawless through ball by Samad found Mahesh in the penalty box and the East Bengal forward comfortably slotted the ball inside the near post to give the Blue Tigers a 1-0 lead.

Despite taking a lead, the Indian players were still failing to settle their feet in the match and were failing in keeping possession of the ball for an extended period of time. Stimac’s side eventually went into a shell to hold on to the lead and a handball by Sandesh Jhingan eventually handed a penalty to Iraq in the 27th minute. 

The central defender was given a yellow card and the penalty kick was taken perfectly by Al-Hamadi as Gurpreet dived the correct way but still failed to get a touch on the ball that found the bottom left corner.

After a foul from Naorem Mahesh, Iraq was awarded a free kick in the 34th minute and Bashar almost found the net but woodwork came to the Blue Tigers’ rescue as the ball bounced off Gurpreet’s left-hand and onto the post and Gurpreet saved the rebound calmly. 

The Lions were desperately looking forward to reaching the final and they made three changes at the half-time break while Igor Stimac decided to keep the squad the same. 

As the second half started, the Blue Tigers quickly got into the driver’s seat for the second time with an own goal from Jalal Hasan in the 51st minute. After a brisk counter-attacking move, Manvir comfortably slid the ball into the path of Mishra whose cross-shot was spilled by Jalal and the ball ended up in the back of the net.

Immediately after the restart, Ashique went down uncomfortably and was replaced by Rahim Ali in Stimac’s first change of the evening. The Lions also made their final substitutions of the match by introducing Ali Adnan and Andre Said on the pitch replacing Putros and Amir Aboud. 

Iraq upped their attacking tempo once again after going a goal down as they were trying to make chances from the left wing as well as the right wing but the Indian defense was aptly clearing the ball at regular intervals.

Osama Shafeeq tried a shot from a long distance but his effort from the right flank fizzed across the box and Amin Alhamawi had a chance to score from 5 yards a minute later but both failed to get their shots on target. 

In the 70th minute, Stimac introduced Rahul KP, Brandon Fernandes, Suresh Wangjam, and Rohit Kumar in the match as Manvir, Jeakson, Thapa, and Naorem Mahesh made their way off the pitch. 

A couple of minutes later, Bashar had a decent chance to equalize the game for the Lions, but Gurpreet’s outstretched leg saved the ball from going inside the net. With attempts here and there, Iraq was desperate to equalize while India was majorly defending. 

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India’s defense performed well throughout the match but they also conceded two penalties

Consequently, in the 79th minute, Iraq was awarded the second penalty of the match as Aymen Ghadhban was sandwiched between Jhingan and Poojary and the striker decided to go down to the ground looking for a penalty which was rewarded by the referee.

The Blue Tigers objected to the awarded set piece but the referee looked unbothered. Making no mistake, Ghadhban smashed the ball in the bottom right corner and equalized the match in the 80th minute. 

In the 83rd minute, Iraq almost took the lead as Ghadhban was teed up barely three yards away from the goal but Gurpreet and Jhingan cleared the ball away successfully for a corner.

Mehtab Singh replaced Sahal Abdul Samad for India as four minutes were added as the injury time. In stoppage time, Zidane Iqbal was shown a red card after he elbowed Brandon Fernandes in the face. As the final whistle blew with the score tied at 2-2, a penalty shootout was confirmed. 

Brandon took the first penalty of the match but failed to give the Blue Tigers a positive start as his shot ricocheted off the right post. On the other hand, Salih’s penalty sneaked under the feet of Gurpreet giving Iraq a 1-0 advantage on spot kicks. 

India’s second penalty taker, Sandesh Jhingan opened the penalty count for India as the central defender’s shot also hit woodwork but the ball made its way to the back of the net after hitting the underside of the crossbar making the score 1-1. 

The experienced Adnan sent Sandhu the wrong way and gave his side a 2-1 lead. Suresh Singh stepped up next for India and almost hit the penalties in the hands of Jamal but the power of the shot took it all the way into the back of the net

Taking his second penalty of the match, Ghadhban scored again in the exact same way outfoxing Gurpreet twice in the evening. Anwar Ali scored the third for India in a precise manner while Al Hamawi aced the fourth shot in the net perfectly. 

Substitute Rahim made the score 4-4 netting the perfect penalty in a high-pressure situation. Post that, all eyes were on India’s reliable custodian, Sandhu for Iraq’s fifth shot but he failed to stop the attempt as Bashar pushed his side into the final. 

Iraq will be facing Thailand in the final of the 49th edition of the King’s Cup while India and Lebanon will be going head to head in a battle for a place on the podium before the final gets underway.