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Kings Cup 2023 | India lose to Iraq in penalty shootout after conceding debatable penalty, face Lebanon in bronze medal playoff

 Indian players during their King’s Cup football match against Iraq, in Thailand, on Sept. 7, 2023.

Indian players during their King’s Cup football match against Iraq, in Thailand, on Sept. 7, 2023.
| Photo Credit: PTI

A Sunil Chhetri-less India conceded a late goal off a debatable penalty to miss out on their first ever win over higher-ranked Iraq, who won the King’s Cup semifinal clash via penalty shootout here on Thursday.

India will take on Lebanon in the bronze-medal playoff, which will be followed by the summit clash between Iraq and Thailand on Sunday.

In the other semifinal at the 700th Anniversary Stadium, Thailand defeated Lebanon 2-1.

India were leading 2-1 till the 79th minute when the referee awarded a soft penalty to Iraq after their striker Aymen Ghadhban was squeezed by two defenders inside the box during a tussle to get on to a high cross.

It did not look like a clear-cut penalty but Ghadhban himself stepped up to take the kick from the spot and scored to level the match 2-2 and take it to the penalty shootout.

Iraq then won 5-4 in the shootout with Brandon Fernandez failing to score as his kick hit the post and went out.

The defeat marked the end of India’s impressive unbeaten streak of 12 matches, as they suffered their first loss of the year.

It was a creditable show by the Indian team, which was without their talismanic striker and captain Chhetri, who missed the tournament after becoming a father recently.

India played on equal terms against Iraq, ranked 70th in the FIFA chart (as against their 99th), for most part of the match.

Earlier, Mahesh Naorem gave India the lead in the 16th minute before Karim Ali equalised in the 28th minute, also from a penalty goal.

India took the lead in the 51st minute with Iraq captain and goalkeeper Jalal Hasan conceding an own goal.

Iraq were reduced to 10 men in the injury stoppage time as Zidane Iqbal was sent off for elbowing Brandon but India could not capitalise on that as the regulation time ended within a minute after that.

The early stages of the match showcased India’s determination to make history. Naorem ignited the Indian fans’ hopes when he found the back of the net, exploiting a sublime pass from Sahal Abdul Samad.

It was a moment of brilliance as Naorem deceived goalkeeper Jalal Hasan and slotted the ball past him at the near post.

However, Iraq swiftly responded, drawing level from the penalty spot.

Ali calmly converted the spot-kick after Sandesh Jhingan was penalised for a handball.

Iraq continued to press and came close to taking the lead, only to be thwarted by India’s vigilant goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

The second half began with a twist that favoured India.

A rare mistake by Iraq’s goalkeeper Hasan gifted India the lead.

Akash Mishra sent in a low and powerful cross, which was mishandled by Hasan and the ball trickled into the net.

With India ahead 2-1, they shifted their focus to defence, putting up a resolute barrier that denied Iraq much room to manoeuvre.

However, a second penalty for Iraq in the 80th minute breathed life into the contest.

Aymen Ghadhban earned the spot-kick after an aerial duel with Nikhil Poojary and Jhingan. Ghadhban converted, levelling the score once again. India’s defence held firm despite Iraq’s late offensive surge. The injury time saw Iraq being reduced to 10 men as Zidane Iqbal received a red card for a reckless challenge on Brandon. But there was hardly any time for India to take advantage as the match went into a nerve-wracking penalty shootout.

The shootout was a test of nerves, but it ultimately favoured Iraq, who converted all their penalties to secure a spot in the final.

Brandon’s missed penalty was a rare blemish in an otherwise outstanding performance by the Indian team.

Before Thursday’s game, India had played Iraq seven times with the latter winning six times, while one game had ended in a draw. The teams last played an international friendly in November 2010 where Iraq won 2-0.

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