England were the heavy favorites to best Iraq in their opening match of the FIFA Under-20 group stage, but the Iraqi side battled back from a 2-0 deficit to force a 2-2 draw in the final minutes of stoppage time.
Despite several chances to close out the match, England slowed their pace with a two-goal advantage, and Iraq took full advantage in a thrilling finish that will set the tone for some exciting action in Group E play.
England got two terrific scoring chances in the in the first 15 minutes of action, but keeper Mohammad Hameed was crisp in the opening frame. Still, he was facing an English attack that looked far less coordinated than it should have, as noted by David E. Chapman:
The slow pace in the first 30 minutes was a result of both a timid England attack and a stout Iraq defense. As the first half wore on, Iraq built on that momentum with some strong possessions and crisp passing that applied pressure to England in the final third, but it wasn’t enough to create any clean scoring chances.
England seemed to find some life in the 34th minute, however. With Iraq’s defense slow to set, Luke Williams headed a pass from John Flanagan that just missed high of the mark, sailing over the crossbar for a small scare for the Iraqi side.
Iraq responded in turn with their own scoring chance in the 37th minute, however. As Dejaily noted on Twitter, it was a good scoring opportunity that would have likely given Iraq plenty of momentum in front of a friendly crowd:
That momentum would have been crucial considering what England was able to do with their next possession.
In the 41st minute, Conor Coady connected with a header from the box that found its way past Hameed and into the net, as detailed by Liverpool’s official Twitter account:
The score would remain 1-0 at the half, and while England certainly weren’t crisp in the first 45 minutes, they did manage to apply enough pressure to keep Iraq from getting much going.
Gary Cosser summed up the first half well with this tweet:
First Half Stats
But in the second half, Iraq came out looking like a much more confident and focused squad. Following an England yellow card in the 50th minute, Iraq got two terrific chances to find the net, capitalizing on neither. Unfortunately for Iraq, those two missed opportunities would again come back to haunt them.
With the Iraqi side pressing in the final third, England found themselves with an opportunity to stretch the pitch and take advantage of their opponents’ aggression. Harry Kane did most of the work on the run, providing the assist for Luke Williams as he came away with an easy goal to give England a 2-0 advantage, as noted by Middlesbrough on Twitter:
Iraq followed the England goal with a substitution to add an extra midfielder to the mix. Down 2-0 with less than 40 minutes to play, the Iraqi side would need an extra attacking presence to get back into the contest.
But adding the extra midfielder didn’t significantly change England’s approach. In fact, they seemed even more confident following their second goal, slowing the pace and settling for a more controlled, conservative approach in the final third.
Iraq managed a counterattack in the 64th minute, forcing a strong Sam Johnstone save, but the opportunities were few and far between for the Iraqi side to build any momentum. In an attempt to change that, Iraq once again substituted in another striker in an attempt to get extra scorers on the pitch as time was winding down.
Bringing on extra attackers didn’t necessarily stem the tide, but Iraq did find a way to get on the board in the 74th minute.
As noted by Chris Davies, a penalty on Johnstone resulted in a free look for Iraq that Ali Faez hammered home in the left side of the net to cut England’s lead in half:
The Faez goal seemed to breathe new life into Iraq’s attack, and Iraq continued finding ways to turn the screws on the English side in the closing minutes.
With six minutes of stoppage time added, Iraq put in one last effort to net an equalizer. Against all odds, that’s exactly what they did.
As Andy Brassell detailed on Twitter, Iraq used those final six minutes to their full advantage. Ali Adnan beat three English defenders to the net and blasted a shot past Johnstone to knot the score at 2-2 and force a critical draw in the group-stage contest:
It was a complete letdown on the part of the English side following a two-goal lead, and while taking a point away from their opening match wasn’t the worst result, England should certainly feel deflated after letting three points slip through their fingers.
For Iraq, the comeback draw was a tremendous effort that will give the team hope for the rest of the tournament. It wasn’t England’s best effort, but Iraq proved they can’t be overlooked in Group E.
With the draw, both teams pick up a point in the Group E tables. Chile remain atop the tables with a win over Egypt, but the group is still wide open.
England are scheduled to square off with Chile on Wednesday, while Iraq have a matchup with Egypt immediately following that match.