Kathmandu: The Indian U-16 team earned a hard fought draw against defending Asian champions Iraq in the qualifiers of the upcoming 2018 AFC U-16 Championship in Kathmandu on Sunday.
The defending SAFF champions went into the match, knowing that only a win can propel them to the AFC U-16 finals. Playing with an attacking mindset the Boys in Blue could have taken the lead as early as the sixth minute but Bekey Oram could not power his shot to perfection and the Iraqi goalkeeper had no problems in collecting it.
The Indians played with more intent and were positive throughout the match even though most of the time they were muscled out by the more powerful Iraqi counterparts.
Then in the 42nd minute, Ricky John was presented with a golden chance to take the lead after Vikram had laid in a wonderful pass. But unfortunately, he had shot it straight at the rival goalkeeper as the first half drew to an end, goalless.
The second half started in a similar fashion as Bekey got another easy chance within the first 10 minutes of the half, but with just the goalkeeper to beat he fumbled, failing to shoot as another chance went begging.
Seeing his young colts unable to break the stiff Iraq defence, coach Bibiano Fernandes in the 76th minute introduced Harpreet Singh who had scored two goals in five minutes in the match against Nepal. He almost repaid the faith six minutes later but his shot sailed over the bar.
However, despite numerous attacks India were not able to break the deadlock as Iraq increased numbers in the defence to stop any signs of threat from the Indian attackers.
With this draw, Iraq qualified for the AFC Championships to be held next year, having topped the group with seven points from three matches.
India on the other hand remained undefeated in the entire campaign. They finished with five points from three matches and will now wait on the results of the other matches, to know about their qualification status.
Meanwhile only two teams will qualify for the upcoming U-16 Championship. With Iraq having already occupied the first position, India with hope that they finish as the second best in the qualifiers group.