Reigning AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar escaped with a 1-0 win on Tuesday as Felix Sanchez’s side saw Afghanistan miss a first-half penalty during their Asian Qualifiers Group E.
Akram Afif’s penalty 14 minutes from time secured Qatar all three points, but only after Omran Haydary saw his effort from the spot saved by Saad al-Sheeb in the first half in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 qualifying tie.
As a result, Qatar remain unbeaten in their first five qualifiers and sit on top of Group E with 13 points while Afghanistan remain on four points with three games left in the second phase of qualifying.
Despite the gulf between the teams, the Qataris were never allowed to settle by an Afghan side that pressed the Asian champions from the front, with the tactic frustrating the visitors throughout the 90 minutes.
Playing in front of a sizeable crowd in the Tajikistan capital, Dushanbe, Afghanistan looked the more likely to score in the early exchanges. Farshad Noor went close to capitalising on a mistake by Tarek Salman, when the defender’s clearance was fired back with interest, only to shoot over the bar.
Almoez Ali should have done better seconds later at the other end, only to slice his attempt off target after being played in on goal by his strike partner Yusuf Abdurisag as Sanchez’s side laboured.
Salman was again involved in the 29th minute when Milad Intezar’s attempt at goal hit the defender on the hand and referee Timur Faizullin had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot. Haydary’s weak attempt, though, was gathered by al-Sheeb as he dropped to his left.
While Hassan al-Haydos threatened soon after, Qatar continued to struggle and had to wait until the final quarter of an hour before they were able to claim the goal their performance barely deserved.
Afif was bundled to the ground by Noor Husin after he broke into the penalty area and the Al Sadd attacker was soon picking himself up off the turf to calmly slot his spot-kick home after sending Afghan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi the wrong way.
Qatar, who have already qualified for the FIFA World Cup 2022 as hosts, play India next on March 26, with Afghanistan taking on Bangladesh.
In Muscat, Oman edged India 1-0 to stay in sight of Qatar in Group E.
The match was a cagey affair with Muhsen Saleh al-Ghassani’s 33rd minute strike securing the points for Oman at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex.
The win took Oman to 12 points, one behind Qatar while the defeat meant India still await their first victory of the Asian Qualifiers, having drawn three and lost two.
The match didn’t begin on the brightest of notes for the visitors as they conceded a penalty six minutes into the tie following Rahul Bheke’s tackle on Ghassani.
To the Oman fans’ dismay, Ghassani skied his effort and from there on, both sides had opportunities to open the scoring.
Oman, however, finally broke through in the 33rd minute when Ghassani made up for his penalty miss as he slotted the ball past India custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
India pressed in the second half without really threatening the Oman goalmouth and unlike their previous matches against Bangladesh and Afghanistan, there was not to be a late goal.
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