Tense stalemate with Iraq keeps Saudi Arabia’s U23 AFC Cup hopes alive

Iraq retained their position at the top of Group D in the AFC U23 Championship after being held 0-0 by Saudi Arabia. (Courtesy: AFC.com)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Tense stalemate with Iraq keeps Saudi Arabia’s U23 AFC Cup hopes alive

Daniel Teglia’s Saudi Under 23 side kept their hopes of reaching the knockout stages of AFC U-23 Championship firmly alive with a 0-0 draw with group leaders Iraq in Changshu.
The point earned from the 0-0 stalemate puts Saudi Arabia joint second in the group on two points behind Iraq who lead the Group C with four points. Jordan’s 1-1 draw with Malaysia in the earlier game played in Group C leaves Teglia’s team with a great opportunity of qualifying for the next stage if they can beat Malaysia in their final game.
Saudi Arabia had made one change from the side that drew 2-2 with Jordan, as they dropped striker Abdulaziz Al-Aryani and started Jaber Asiri who played a part as a substitute in Saudi’s late fight-back in the opening group game with Jordan.
Despite a comfortable 4-1 victory over Malaysia in their opening match, Abdul-Ghani Shahad opted to make two changes to his side, with defender Ahmed Abdul-Ridha and midfielder Ibrahim Bayish coming in for midfielder Mohammed Jafal and striker Farhan Shakur. The two changes saw Alaa Mahawi pushed up from full back to the right side of midfield as the Iraqis packed their midfield and played with a false number nine in midfielder Ibrahim Bayish.
There was little in the first half that amounted to goalmouth action with a cagey start from both sides with the only action of note being two cautions brandished by Chinese referee Ma Ning in the opening ten minutes. Alaa Mahawi of Iraq earned the first yellow in the fifth minute after a late challenge on Saudi’s Ali Al-Lajami and on 10 minutes Saudi midfielder Osama Al-Khalaf was shown a yellow for a foul on Hussein Ali.
The match was at the mercy of the referee’s whistle with 19 fouls committed and 16 free kicks conceded in the first half as the first forty-five minutes was full of stoppages and interruptions.
Late in the half Iraqi midfielder Amjad Atwan was yellow carded for leaning with his elbow on a Saudi player and from the resulting free kick from Sami Al-Naji produced Saudi and the half’s only effort on target from a Abdululah Alamri header that was comfortably saved by the Iraqi keeper Ahmed Basil.
The only chance for Iraq came in the 27th minute when Alaa Mahawi got down the right flank leaving Hamdan Al-Shamrani in his tracks and crossed into the box. But Iraq’s Hamza Adnan was unable to get a touch on the ball and was quickly surrounded as a combination of the Saudi keeper and three defenders blocked the Iraqi left back’s path to goal to his own frustration.
From the opening of the second half, Iraq played with more urgency, as it looked as if Abdul-Ghani Shahad had given them a stern team-talk at the break. They found space behind the Saudi backline that was exploited by the wide players Hussein Ali and Iraqi captain Bashar Resan, as the Saudis conceded two corners in as many minutes with Iraq having four shots on goal.
The physical and experienced Iraqi side piled on the pressure with their coach urging his side to push well up into the Saudi half. Seeing his side hemmed in, Saudi coach Daniel Teglia made an early change in attack bringing on the lively striker Rakan Al-Anaze, the hero of the first game with Jordan as they soaked up the early pressure.
Both coaches were animated on the sidelines with the facial expressions of Iraqi coach Abdul-Ghani Shahad seemingly getting more and more frustrated as the half went on. The Iraqis looking to win and qualify for the next round, sent on strikers Alaa Abbas and Farhan Shakur for Hussein Ali and Ibrahim Bayish in the last five minutes in a search for the elusive goal.
But while Iraq dominated with 56 percent of the possession, the Saudi back four were disciplined, remaining firm and compact to Iraq’s unorthodox attacking formation headed by midfielder Ibrahim Bayish and despite the Iraqis creativity in the final third, the Saudi defense limited their opponents to only a couple of clear cut chances in the whole ninety minutes as the match ended in a 0-0 stalemate.

STAR MAN
The tall central defender Abdulelah Alamri epitomised the Saudi doggedness in defense with an assured and assertive performance at the heart of the defense making fives clearances and three key interceptions in the game, as he proved to be Saudi’s best player on the night.


India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

Updated 36 min 58 sec ago
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India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

  • India brace for Pakistan after surviving stern test against minnows Hong Kong
  • Usman Shinwari: Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high

DUBAI: As delirium sweeps the UAE ahead of the mouth-watering encounter between arch rivals India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup, it seems one man — at least outwardly — is not as excited as the rest of the country and cricketing fans the world over.
India captain Rohit Sharma played with a straight bat when asked about the biggest clash in world cricket, set to take place today at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. On his first Asia Cup media outing the 31-year-old seemed unconcerned by the impending showdown with their fiercest opponents, his focus instead on facing Hong Kong, who Sharma and Co. had a big scare against on Tuesday.
“Right now, we are not focusing on Pakistan as (first) we are playing Hong Kong,” Sharma said on Sunday. “Obviously we have to focus on that particular team but once we have finished that game we will focus on Pakistan and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
These are clearly the words of a man so media trained that by now he could easily be on the other side of the desk, asking the same questions he and his colleagues sometimes enjoy batting back with crafted clichés that speak of focusing on “one game at a time” or the like.
Sharma was clearly right to not take his eyes off the ball with Hong Kong — they are not here to merely make up the numbers, as their brilliant, battling performance on Tuesday illustrated. But at the same time, Sharma will be all too aware that as India skipper the one match you do not want to lead your side to defeat in is the one against Pakistan, regardless of competition and location.
Clearly India are not leaving Pakistan preparations to the 14 hours or so (sleep included) between the close of the Hong Kong clash and the toss prior to resuming Indo-Pak cricketing rivalry. To suggest they are would be naive at best.
A year on from Pakistan’s show-stealing Champions Trophy final victory over the old enemy in June last year, and a whole five years since the two sides met outside of an ICC or ACC event due to strained political relations, the appetite for the first of potentially three matches at this year’s Asia Cup is huge and one borne out of starved hunger.
Pakistan’s Usman Shinwari, fresh off defeating Hong Kong on Sunday, was more candid than Sharma.
“Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high, and every player dreams of doing well in this contest,” the fast bowler said. “I took three wickets (against Hong Kong), I hope that can be five wickets against India.”
Shinwari’s sentiments were echoed by his captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is absolutely clear on the levels of expectation that this fixture demands from fans on both sides of the border.
“The passion is always there,” said Sarfraz. “When you play against India everyone wants us to win as it’s against India.
“The fans say that whatever happens you have to win but as a captain I have to win against every team. It would be the same for India whose fans want them to win. It has happened in the past that any player who performs in the Indo-Pak match becomes a national hero.”
UAE cricket fans cannot wait for the clash. It took just a few hours for the first batch of tickets to be snapped up, the second bought in equally ravenous fashion. It has left a huge number of tickets now being touted across online marketplaces, social media platforms and, ultimately, will likely see the inflated resales being pawned outside the stadium on matchday too.
An expected 25,000 fans will swell the Ring of Fire, set to deal not only with cricket’s most fierce rivalry but also with all the unpredictability that will be thrown their way.
The famed traffic jams around Hessa Street, leading up to the stadium, and local entrances of Dubai Sports City will heave and efforts have been made to ease the burden of vehicles that will cart both sets of fans in and out of the area. Gates will open from 12p.m. local time, a whole three and a half hours before the first ball has been bowled. In an emirate where the last-minute rush is a daily fact of life, this will be not be an easy thing to execute but that, alongside the immense presence of volunteers and security, should prove welcome additions to the day’s running order.
This, though, is India vs Pakistan. Anything could happen.