Erbil secures a place in AFC Cup’s Round of 16
The Yellow Castle club, Erbil, took the top position of Group B in the AFC Cup and secured a place in the Round of 16 after winning over Oman’s Fanja 1-0 last Wednesday.
The match was run at Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil city with very few spectators. Nabeel Sabah scored the only goal just after half-time as Erbil, who lost last year’s final to Kuwait Sports Club, moved three points clear of Fanja at the top of the table.
The match started with several quick attacks by the Erbil team but the firmness of the guest team defense line was the main obstacle on the way of scoring goals. Erbil was well organized and coherent in its transferring and passing, especially in the midfield line. Striker Amjed Radhi had his first real scoring opportunity in the 25th minute but his kick went over the bar.
After Radhi's attack, Erbil began to control the game and enjoyed the upper hand in the first half and came close to a breakthrough after 28 minutes as Luay Salah’s shot from just outside the area hit the crossbar.
Fanja's attacks were very few and far between due to being busy with defending most of the time in the first half. There were no real threats on Erbil’s keeper Jajal Hassan as Fanja depended on counter attacks that didn't lead to any scores. The first half ended with 0-0.
Despite Fanja finishing the second half strongly, Erbil finally opened the scoring two minutes after half-time as the visitors could only partially clear Aleksandar Kosoric’s cross and Sabah was on hand to beat goalkeeper Ahmed Al Hattali.
Erbil came close to a second just before the hour mark as Kosoric again provided the cross, but Salah struck the crossbar for the second time in the match.
But the miss did not prove costly as Erbil’s organized defense restricted Fanja and the visitors were unable to find a response as the Kurdish side extended their unbeaten start.
Despite its loss, Fanja had also entered the contest with a perfect record, as the Oman champions remain in second place with Al Ansar three points further adrift after the Lebanese side recorded a 2-0 win over Yemen’s Ahli Taiz.
“I’m proud of the players and their performance which helped us to win the game and continue in top spot of the group,” said Erbil coach Rodion Gacanin, known as Radan.
The Croatian added “We were the better side in the game and had a good performance while we missed several chances, especially in the first half".
The reason why Erbil was not able to score in the first half, according to Radan, is due to Erbil missing key players. Some changes made in the second half helped the team to control the midfield and score the winning goal.
Meanwhile Fanja coach Hicham Al Jadran, said “Erbil deserved to win today as they surprised us with their strong performance which helped them to control the game and score early in the second half,”
What changed Fanja's plan, in Al Jadran's view, was the quick goal after the break as Fanja was looking to get at least one point from the game.
“We lost the ball a lot in midfield due to the absence of some key mid-fielders. Erbil is a strong team and they have good players who put in a good performance today, but we will try our best to avenge our defeat with the return of our absent players next week when we play at home and in front of our fans.” He noted
Concerning the little number of spectators attending the match, an Erbil fan, Soran Haider, said Erbil has a lot of fans but most of them didn't attend the match because they didn't want to miss the minutes of UEFA Champions League matches.
"I attended the match because I live in a neighborhood which is close to the stadium. But many others who need hours to reach the stadium stayed home today intending to watch the Champions league games." Said Haider
Erbil midfielder, Halgud Mala Muhammad, fights with a Fanja player at an AFC Cup match which ran in Franso Hariri Stadium last week.