AFC Asian Cup: Tajikistan stage comeback to progress; Qatar stay perfect with 1-0 win
DOHA — Debutants Tajikistan produced a stirring comeback to prolong their journey at the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023, defeating Lebanon 2-1 to finish second in Group A here on Monday.
Meanwhile, Hassan Al Haydos’ goal-of-the-tournament contender earned Qatar a 1-0 win over China PR in their final Group A clash at Khalifa International Stadium as the hosts all-but eliminated Aleksandar Jankovic’s side from the competition.
Tajikistan, the Central Asian side, showed great fight and spirit as Nuriddin Khamrokulov’s goal in the second minute of stoppage time saw them finish on four points, two better than China PR with Lebanon on one point.
Tajikistan responded with their first attempt on target in the 24th minute when Zoir Dzhuraboev climbed high at the back post to get his head onto Akhtam Nazarov’s cross, however, it was a tame effort which Mostafa Matar easily dealt with.
Backed by a sizable Lebanon-supporting crowd in the stands, Miodrag Radulovic’s side had two openings early on but attempts by Hussein Zein and Hassan Maatouk were well covered by Tajikistan custodian Rustam Yatimov.
The Central Asian side nearly broke the deadlock seven minutes later, with Matar out of position after having made a clearance, a quick Tajikistan throw-in saw Manuchehr Safarov unleash a shot which bounced off the crossbar.
Hassan Al Haydos, the Qatari captain, came off the bench to smash a spectacular volley from 20 yards past the helpless Yan Junling in the 66th minute and maintain the much-changed defending champions’ perfect start to the campaign and stretch their winning run to 10 matches.
Jankovic’s side needed a win to be certain of advancing to the last 16 but, after failing to find the back of the net in their opening games against Tajikistan and Lebanon, the Chinese once again misfired in attack with their fate now out of their hands.
Qatar started with the tournament’s joint-leading scorer Akram Afif on the bench alongside the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Golden Boot winner Almoez Ali and Al Haydos as Marquez Lopez made 10 changes to the team that started the 1-0 win over Tajikistan.
The Chinese, meanwhile, left Wu Lei on the sidelines with Wei Shihao making his first start alongside captain Wu Xi and Lin Liangming as Dai Wai-tsun and Xu Xin were also dropped to the bench.