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Iraq happy to finish as group toppers, but Bahrain tough opponents

Doha, Qatar: Iraq have been one of the most impressive teams in the group phase of the Gulf Cup, with victories over Asian champions Qatar and UAE in the first two matches, but they were posed a different challenge on Monday when they went down to 10 men in the eighth minute of the game against a spirited Yemen.

Iraq, however, did well to come up with a draw that helped them finish top of Group. It proved a big result in the end for they avoided a semifinal clash against Saudi Arabia, who seemed to have found their touch after looking pedestrian in the opening two games.

Iraq coach Srecko Katanec said he was satisfied with the result.

“The match was not easy. It was an important game for us,” Katanec said at the press conference after the match. “However, Mustafa’s (Mohammed Jaber)  dismissal at the beginning of the game confused our calculations and the players were forced to do more. This is not good for us because we lost physical effort which we were saving for the semifinal.

“We played with nine players, two of whom are attackers. We also played with young players like Mohammad Qassim and Maitham (Jabbar), who joined for the first time for the national team. We were challenged by the Yemeni players who did well.

“I am happy with the outcome of the match. We qualified without a defeat,” said the Slovenian.

But Bahrain will be no easy opponents as Kuwait found out, and to make it tougher for Iraq Hélio Sousa’s men will be brimming with confidence after their stunning victory on Monday.

“We played a very good game, which reflected the value of the work we have done in the past months and we deserved to qualify,” Sousa said after the encounter.

The Portuguese manager said Iraq were one of the best teams in Asia.

“They are one of the best teams in Asia. We will play the fourth game against them in just three months. I am very happy to play against them again”.

Bahrain drew with Iraq in the both their recent World Cup qualifiers while they registered a 1-0 victory in the WAFF Championship held in Karbala in August.

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