A neat Akram Afif finish edged Qatar closer to a quarter-final berth at the AFC U23 Championship 2018 yesterday thanks to a narrow 1-0 win over regional rivals Oman at the Changzhou Olympic Sports Center.
With one round of matches still to play, the victory lifts Qatar to top spot in Group A on six points, three ahead of both host nation China PR and Uzbekistan, while Oman are fourth and still searching for their first points of the tournament. Uzbekistan beat China 1-0 in the day’s earlier match.
In a first half of few genuine chances, Qatar threatened first when Afif curled an early shot wide, before Oman midfielder Jameel al-Yahmadi released Muhsen al-Ghassani who could only drill his 22nd minute shot wide of Ibrahim al-Mukhaini’s right hand post when through on goal.
Al-Mukhaini was then forced into action some 10 minutes later, the custodian reacting well to tip a firm Bassam al-Rawi header over the bar following Ahmad Moein’s pinpoint free-kick.
However, as the opening period drew to a close, it was Qatar who would take the lead when the industrious Almoez Ali found Afif who finished with aplomb from a tight angle. Oman emerged after the break clearly eager to restore parity, and al-Ghassani came close to doing just that courtesy of a shot from 20 yards that fizzed narrowly past Mohamed al-Bakari’s left upright with an hour played.
A flicked header from Oman livewire al-Ghassani and Qatar substitute Meshaal al-Shamari’s late effort over the bar subsequently represented the best opportunity either team forged as full-time approached, and the Qataris kept their hopes of progressing to the knockout phase well and truly alive.
Qatar coach Felix Sanchez was happy with his team’s show but said Oman put up a good fight.
“I think both teams made a good effort today. It was great that we were able to get the three points. Oman pushed hard and made it difficult for us to control the ball at times, but we had our chances to score on the counter-attack,” said Sanchez.
“I am proud of my players as they have played against two strong teams in Uzbekistan and Oman so far and have performed well.”
Oman coach Hamad al-Azani was clearly unhappy with the result.
“I am disappointed by the result. A lot of my players are young, and they have a (bright) future, we have to support them,” said al-Azani.
“I think we did well to restrict Qatar’s goalscoring chances and had opportunities of our own in the first half and then in the second half when we changed our formation and played with two strikers.”
Meanwhile, Khojiakbar Alijonov’s first half strike proved the difference as Uzbekistan secured a vital and thrilling 1-0 win over China .
The win leaves the Central Asians level with China on three points and, and with Qatar defeating Oman 1-0 in the day’s second match, both teams can still genuinely harbour ambitions of sealing a spot in the quarter-finals with one game apiece still to play.
Uzbekistan, who made a raft of changes to their starting 11 in the wake of Tuesday’s defeat to Qatar, were the first to threaten on a chilly afternoon in Jiangsu province, Dostonbek Khamdamov whipping in a 10th minute free-kick that China goalkeeper Zhou Yuchen did well to gather at his near post.
Their fine early endeavours were though to be rewarded just four minutes later when defender Khojiakbar Alijonov made the most of poor Chinese defending to fire a left footed shot across Zhou and into the far corner of the net.
China responded well to the setback, Gao Zunhyi seeing his firm header cleared off the line by Doniyorjon Narzullaev, and Wei Shihao having a shot smothered by Uzbekistan custodian Botirali Ergashev following fine work down the right by Ba Dun shortly after the half hour mark.
In the last meaningful action of an entertaining first half Ergashev then pulled off a superb flying save to push away Yao Junsheng’s headed attempt from a pinpoint Liu Yiming delivery.
China continued to press after the break, as Yang Liyu blazed over the bar when well placed, before substitute Tang Shi headed Li Shuai’s sublime cross narrowly wide of the target within six minutes of the restart.
With Uzbekistan defending resolutely, China duly struggled to find the goal they so desperately needed, with Wei Shihao’s speculative effort from distance one of the few highlights for Massimiliano Maddaloni’s charges. Uzbekistan will look to seal a place in the last eight when they tackle Oman in the final round of group stage matches on Monday, while China are scheduled to face Qatar.
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