The Kurdish Globe
By Zakaria Muhammed
Erbil took a huge step towards becoming the first club from Iraq to reach the AFC Cup final, after defeating Thailand's Chonburi 4-1 at the Franso Hariri Stadium on October 2 in the first leg of the semi-final.
Erbil striker Amjad Radhi scored the opening goal with a cheeky back-heel in the first half and restored the home side's lead in the 50thminute after the visitors had got back on level terms through Pipob On-Mo early in the second half.
After the goal, Chonburi started attacking aiming to equalize the result. It very nearly got back on level terms on the half-hour mark after a free-kick by evergreen playmaker Therdsak Chaiman came back off the crossbar.
However, the Thai side would get back on level terms within 90 seconds of the restart as Pipob shook off the challenge of Ugandan defender Ivan Bukenya to force his way into the box and fire home the equalizer.
Erbil fans were shocked into a brief silence but they were soon cheering again as Radhi appeared again and scored the second goal for Erbil.
Erbil made it 3-1 in the 66th minute when Halgurd Mullah Muhammad crossed a ball into the Chonburi's penalty area but defender Suttinun turned the ball into his team's goal net though he tried to turn the ball away.
Only 16 minutes before the match ended, Erbil playmaker, Salih Sadeer, launched a stinging drive from 25 meters that sailed past Sinthaweechai into the top corner of the Chonburi net to give Erbil a comfortable lead to take to Thailand for the return game.
After the match, a press conference was arranged for both teams' coaches. At first Nizar Mahrous, Erbil FC coach, said "Despite our joy with the big win, we must be wary of the strength of Chonburi when they play at home and in front of their fans,"
Mahrous asked his players to try to forget the first leg match and prepare themselves for the second leg.
"We must go to Thailand with the aim to get a positive result in order to qualify for the final and we hope that we have a better performance than today although we scored four goals." He said
Meanwhile Chonburi coach Withaya Laohakul attributed his side's huge loss to that the weather conditions in Iraq that negatively affected his players although he has not yet given up on his side's hopes of reaching the AFC Cup final.
"We suffered a disappointing defeat as the dry weather affected our players and played a big factor in our loss tonight against one of the best teams in the competition," Laohaku said.
He added "Despite the defeat, we have not lost our hope of qualifying for the final and I'm fully confident that our players are capable of getting a good result when we play at home and in front of our fans."
Aside from having the home fans behind them in the second leg, Chonburi will also be able to welcome back Brazilian striker Thiago Cunha, who bagged a hat-trick in their epic quarter-final win against Al Shorta of Syria in Jordan two weeks ago but missed the first leg of the semi-final through suspension.
Erbil is moving toward recording a big historical achievement. Based on all the regulations and standards, Erbil will play the final match at the Franso Hariri Stadium in front of its fans, if it finishes the second leg of semifinal in its favor. That event will not only entertain Erbil people but all the Kurdistan Region and Iraqi people as well.