India were held to a goalless draw by defending Asian Champions Iraq in the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers at the Halchowk Stadium in Kathmandu on Sunday.
A second consecutive draw means that India end their group stage ties in the competition with five points out of a maximum nine, with a big win against Palestine followed by two draws against Nepal and Iraq aiding the cause.
Meanwhile, Iraq who finished their engagements with 7 points from 3 matches have already booked a ticket to the AFC U-16 Finals slated to be held next year.
Knowing that only a victory would enable them a ticket to the AFC U-16 Finals, India started on a positive note and should have surged into the lead as early as the 6th minute itself but the swift Bekey, despite sneaking in from the flanks, could not get the power behind his shot and the Iraqi goalkeeper managed to save it.
Iraq's physical prowess enabled them to boss the midfield and as a result, the India Colts failed to produce clear-cut chances regularly. Both sides went in at the break without having broken the deadlock.
Following the restart, Bekey was at the end of perhaps the easiest chance of the match. At the hour mark, he got the better of his marker to go one-on-one with the goalkeeper but he couldn’t finish it off.
Coach Bibiano Fernandes introduced the fresh pair of legs of Harpreet in the 76th minute. It was his double that salvaged a point for the Colts in their last game but it wasn't to be repeated.
India went all out thereafter but Iraq were content to sit back, knowing that they are on the brink of qualification if they get the draw. The draw leaves India in second place behind Iraq in their group and since only the five (six, if Malaysia win their group) best runners up can qualify from their groups, they will need to wait for the completion of fixtures across all groups to know their fate. However, Nepal's loss to Palestine has boosted India's hopes for qualification as one of the five best runner ups.
India U-16 Lineup: Lalbiakhlua Jongte (GK), Harpreet Singh, Moirangthem Thoiba Singh, Gurkirat Singh, Shabas Ahammed Moothedath (Samir Kerketta 69'), Lalchhanhima Sailo (Ridge Melvin 89'), Ricky John Shabong, Givson Singh Moirangthem, Bekey Oram, Ravi Bahadur Rana (Harpreet 76'), Vikram Pratap (C)