AFC - Saudi Arabia emerged victorious from a remarkable 11-goal thriller against Islamic Republic of Iran at Khalifa Sports City Stadium on Thursday evening with their 6-5 win booking a place in the final of the AFC U-19 Championship Bahrain 2016.
Abdulrahman Al Yami scored a hat-trick and captain Sami Al Naji scored twice while Ayman Al Khulaif was also on the scoresheet for Saad Al Shehri’s team at the end of an astonishing 90 minutes.
Saudi Arabia will take their place in the final for the first time since winning the title in 1992 while the Iranians, for whom Reza Jafari, Aref Aghasi, Reza Shekari, Mehdi Mehdikhani and Reza Karmollachaab scored, will have their four-decade wait to reclaim the title extended.
The Saudis took the lead with just 18 minutes on the clock after referee Fu Ming pointed to the spot following a coming together in the penalty area between Rakan Al Anaze and Aref Gholami and captain Al Naji calmly slotted his effort from 12 yards past Shahab Adeli.
Three minutes before the break, the Saudis doubled their lead with a fine passing move that will undoubtedly go down as one of the goals of the tournament.
Abdullah Magrshi deprived Mehdikhani of the ball deep in his own half before starting a fluid passing move that saw the Saudis move forward, weaving together 15 passes before Al Khulaif latched onto Al Naji’s through pass to slide the ball between Adeli’s legs.
Iran desperately needed to find a way into the game and, as the clock ticked towards 45 minutes, Amir Peiravani’s side finally found one when Jafari robbed a dawdling Fahad Al Harbi midway inside his own half before racing towards goal and smashing the ball beyond Al Bukhari at the second attempt.
Almost immediately, however, the Saudis restored their two-goal cushion. Straight from the restart, Ali Hassan Al Asami’s long pass released Al Khulaif down the right and the Al Ahli midfielder reached the bye-line before cutting back for Al Yami to score.
The Iranians refused to lie down and, incredibly, they reduced the deficit to one with virtually the last kick of the half. The Saudi defence struggled to clear Abolfazl Razzaghpour’s corner and Aghasi, whose initial header was only half-cleared, struck through a crowd of players to leave the score 3-2 at the break.
Six minutes after the restart, Saudi Arabia notched up another with Al Naji claiming his second after starting and finishing a move that saw him receive a return pass from Al Yami before striking beyond Adeli.
SAUDIS WILL STRAIGHTEN OUT DEFENSIVE SHORTCOMINGS SAYS AL SHEHRI
Once more, though, Iran pulled a goal back when, in the 62nd minute, Shekari netted from close range after Al Bukhari carelessly parried Razzaghpour’s free kick from deep into the midfielder’s path.
Yet again, the Saudis restored their two-goal cushion two minutes later when Al Yami claimed his second after Al Khulaif’s one-two with Al Naji put him behind the Iranian defence before rolling the ball across goal to give Al Yami the simplest of finishes.
While Iran’s defending was poor, there was little reason to question their spirit and, with 15 minutes remaining, they claimed a fourth as substitute Sina Khadempour’s long throw was sidefooted past Al Bukhari by Mehdikhani. But a minute later, the Saudis struck again as Al Yami completed his hat-trick after wriggling his way through the Iranian defence.
Back came the Iranians again and, with seven minutes to go, they claimed their fifth and the game’s 11th goal when Karmollachaab beat Al Bukhari low and at his near post with a perfectly executed overhead kick.
But Iran’s luck ran out when Gholami was sent off in injury time for a second bookable offence and the Saudis held on to seal their place in the final.