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UAE, Palestine advance in contrasting fashions to Asian Cup knockouts

Yahya Al Ghassani holds off an Iranian defender on his way to the goal at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan (AFP)
23 Jan 2024 22:59

Doha (Agencies)

For nearly 40 minutes, fans of UAE football were left agonising as the national team played Iran before Yahya Al Ghassani put them through to the knockout stages of the Asian Cup. The UAE lost 2-1 but managed to advance automatically as the second-placed team in the group behind the leaders Iran.

However, the Palestine put up a spirited show against Hong Kong in Group C to cause moments of anxiety. With both matches kicking off at the same time, the hour mark saw UAE concede a second goal around the same time as Oday Dabbagh struck for the second time to put Palestine ahead 3-0.

The revamped 24-team Asian Cup has top two teams from the six groups advancing along with four best third-placed teams. Before the match, the UAE had a five-goal cushion, but that lead vanished when Mehdi Taremi also completed a brace for Iran in the 65th minute.

However, a fast counter saw Abdullah Ramadan send the ball through to Al Ghassani on the left. The young striker's right-footed shot slotted it past Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand to settle the issue.

On the other hand, Palestine could not add to their three-goal tally, though they scored a historic first win in the history of the competition and hence advanced with a maiden knockout stage result as the third team from the group. The nerves jangled further when both matches had 12 minutes of injury time.

The historic victory in Doha comes against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas conflict. "Thank you to the fans who are coming to support Palestine and the national team of Palestine. Thank you from our heart," captain Musab Al-Battat said in the post-game presentation. "We will do our best to put a smile for the people."

No side had played more Asian Cup matches without a win than Hong Kong (12 games) or Palestine (eight), but victory would offer either side a chance of making the last 16. Throughout the game, the 6,568 people inside the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium were almost entirely supporting Palestine, like at most grounds during the team's campaign.

  • The Plaestine players display their appreciation to the 6,568 fans in the stadium after beating Hong Kong (AFP)
    The Plaestine players display their appreciation to the 6,568 fans in the stadium after beating Hong Kong (AFP)


Syria, Uzbekistan Through

Earlier, Uzbekistan joined Australia in the last 16 after the two teams played out a 1-1 draw in their final group game while Syria beat India in the other encounter in Group B to qualify as one of the best third-placed teams. Australia had already qualified for the knockout stage and guaranteed a top-two finish, with the result moving the 2015 champions to seven points while Uzbekistan finished second with five points.

"We came here at the start of the tournament to top the group and we've got the job done," Australia coach Graham Arnold said. "It's the most important thing and we move forward now one game at a time and see who our next opponent is."

Australia had an early goal ruled out for offside but they took the lead on the stroke of halftime when they were awarded a controversial penalty following a VAR check for a handball from Odiljon Hamrobekov. The Uzbek midfielder was attempting to make a sliding tackle to stop Kusini Yengi in the box when his trailing hand made contact with the ball, with Martin Boyle putting away the spot kick confidently after sending Utkir Yusupov the wrong way.

"The Australian coach was honest and said it was never a penalty," Uzbekistan coach Srecko Katanec said. "If this is the penalty rules, then nobody knows the rules. There's no intention and still it's a yellow card."

But Uzbekistan equalised in the 78th minute when Azizbek Turgunboev climbed over the defence to head home Jaloliddin Masharipov's cross at the far post. In the other group game, Syria beat India 1-0 after Omar Khribin – the 2017 Asian Footballer of the Year – netted in the 76th minute to give the Middle Eastern side their first goal of the tournament.

Syria finished with four points and the AFC later clarified that they are also through to the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed teams across all groups "regardless of final results from other groups". It marks the first time Syria have advanced to the knockouts since their Asian Cup debut in 1980. India exit the competition without scoring a goal in three losses.

Source: Agencies
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