Men's Olympic football: Draw ends Iraq's dream
Iraq and South Africa ended their campaigns at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 after drawing 1-1 in their final Group A match on Wednesday evening.
Iraq captain Saad Luaibi’s first-half header cancelled out Gift Motupa’s early goal for South Africa in Sao Paulo, with the West Asians looking the more likely side to win the contest after creating the majority of the scoring chances at the Arena Corinthians.
In fact, both teams will be left to wonder what might have been. A victory either way would have been enough to advance to the quarter-finals alongside hosts Brazil, who defeated Denmark 4-0 in Wednesday’s other Group A encounter.
It was Bafana Bafana that made a bright start to the match, taking the lead in the sixth minute through Motupa. Andile Fikizolo’s cross from the right was not dealt with by the Iraqi backline, with the ball falling kindly to the Orlando Pirates man to finish with aplomb past goalkeeper Mohammed Hameed.
Yet, true to their battling spirit at Rio 2016, Iraq levelled matters in the 14th minute through their skipper Luaibi. His header from Mohanad Abdulraheem’s corner was expertly dispatched into the South Africa goal at the near post.
The equaliser prompted the Iraqis to take control of proceedings up to the break, with Abdulraheem and Ali Adnan seeing quality efforts go off the South African woodwork.
The Asian outfit picked up where they left off in the second half and created the best chances to take the lead. Abdulraheem struck the crossbar in the 55th minute before missing the target moments later. Mahdi Kamil then forced a timely save from South Africa goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune when put clear in on goal.
There was no shortage of effort and endeavour from both sides in the dying stages, but a match winner and the reward of passage to the knockout stages ultimately remained elusive. In the end, both teams bid farewell to their Olympic journey.
The result saw Iraq finish third in Group A with three points from three drawn games, while South Africa finished fourth in the group with two points.