Kolkata, Oct 8 (IANS) Iraq, now a nation torn by strife and bloodshed, warmed the hearts of fans with a spectacular display to hold two-time champions Mexico 1-1 in a Group F encounter of the FIFA U-17 World Cup here on Sunday.
The Asian powerhouse took the lead in the 16th minute through their star striker Mohammed Dawood, before Mexico’s Roberto de la Rosa cancelled the advantage in the 51st minute at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan before around 46,000 spectators.
Having lost all their group matches in their only other appearance in the U-17 World Cup four years ago, the Iraqis have now got their first ever point in the tournament. The result looked all the more laudable with their coach Qahtan Chitheer conceding only a day ago that financial trouble arising from war and political turmoil hampered their preparations ahead of the event.
The game between two rivals of varying football cultures witnessed a searing pace. Attacks were met with counter-attacks, the battle for midfield control reached dizzying heights from time to time, and both goalkeepers remained busy.
The first half belonged to Iraq.
They dominated the exchanges with over 60 per cent ball possession, and shot into the lead as Dawood showed his uncanny scoring prowess, as he latched on to a midfield pass, launched on a solo, darted into the box, wrong-footed the rival goalkeeper Cesar Lopez, and slammed the ball home. The helpless custodian helplessly lay prostrate on the ground
Apart from the goal, Dawood looked menacing throughout, and could have struck again in the 31st minute, but failed to unleash a proper shot and the ball travelled parallel to the goal.
Around the same time, Mexico could have restored parity around the halfway mark, but luck did not favour them, with Roberto de la Rosa’s header from a Diego Lainez cross crashing into the bar.
Down 0-1 at the halfway mark, Mexico looked more determined in the second session, as they put pressure on the Iraqi rearguard. De La Rosa and Leinez combined better and that paid off soon enough, as the Asian U-16 champions lapsed into sloppy defending.
A Daniel Lopez cross from the right was sloppily met by two Iraqi defenders inside the box, and, De La Rosa let loose a firm right footer that went in.
Henceforth the ball rocketed from one end of the park to the another, but none of the teams could break the deadlock.
Muntadheer Mohammed let go a power-packed left footer, but Mexico goalkeeper Lopez dived to punch it out of harm’s way.
The action shifted to the other end, and Iraqi custodian Ali Ibadi also rose to the occasion to save a Lainez effort, but at the cost of a corner.
Eight minutes from time, Lainez made another attempt, but the left footer went off target..
As the match rolled into the stoppage time, the galleries started emptying. The only noteworthy event in the dying stages was an injury picked up by Muntadher Mohammed, who had to be replaced.