By Sports Reporter/ Doha
Ten-man Iraq earned a gritty goalless draw with Yemen to maintain the top spot in Group A of the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium yesterday.
Iraq have seven points from three games, while hosts and Asian Cup champions Qatar, who defeated the UAE 4-2 at the Khalifa International Stadium, finished second with six points. Qatar had defeated Yemen and lost 2-1 to Iraq in their opener.
The Iraqi side had no pressure going into the match yesterday being the only side to have already qualified for the semi-finals.
The former champions earned a point despite going down to 10 men in the eighth minute after Mustafa Mohamed was sent off for a foul on Yemen’s Ayman al-Hagri.
Referee Ahmed Alali did not punish the Iraqi defender initially but after a long VAR delay, he opted to send Mohamed off for the high boot challenge on Yemen’s al-Hagri.
The red card disrupted Iraq’s momentum, especially in the first half which was a scrappy affair, with plenty of tackles from both sides and no clear chances or shots on goal.
Despite the disadvantage, Iraq created the better chances and Alaa Mhawi shot just wide in the 22nd minute. There was another chance for Iraq at the half-hour mark but Ali Faez’s free-kick was stopped by Yemen goalkeeper Mohamed Ayash while Ahmed Sadeq’s shot went wide at the other end four minutes before the break.
Yemen, who were looking for their first win in the Gulf Cup, improved their show in the second period and they almost opened the scoring in the 58th minute through Abdulwasea al-Matari but the referee, assisted by VAR, ruled out the goal for a foul on one of the Iraqi players in the build-up.
Iraq had opportunities towards the end, with Mhawi denied by Ayash in the 88th minute, who then stopped Ali Faez’s header in stoppage time.
It was a creditable performance from Yemen, who were unable to qualify for the semi-finals after losing their first match to the UAE 3-0 and later to Qatar 6-0, as they held Iraq to a draw for the first time in their Gulf Cup history.
Yemen coach Sami Hasan al-Nash also praised his side’s improved performance in the match against Lions of Mesopotamia.
“Though Iraq was one man down early, but I am happy with my team’s improved performance in the match. They have raised their game and I am happy with their show today,” he said.
“The Gulf Cup matches have their own flavour. The strong competition in this regional event has contributed in improving our players’ level and it will help us in the coming Asian Cup qualifiers games,” he said.
Iraq coach Srecko Katanec said he was satisfied with the draw. “Though it was an unimportant game for us, it was not an easy game as we lost Mustafa to the red card early in the game and that disturbed our plans.” he said.
The Slovenian also praised Yemen for their gritty show. “We were challenged by Yemeni players who performed well,” he said.
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