13 Jan 2018 - 0:00
Brilliant Afif seals Qatar’s second win
CHANGZHOU: Ace midfielder Akram Afif yesterday produced a slick goal to power Qatar to their second successive win at the AFC U-23 Asian Cup.
Afif, the guiding force of Qatar’s historic AFC U-19 Asian Cup triumph in 2014, managed a right-footed strike from close range after a neat cross from striker Almoez Ali in the 43rd minute of the Group A match.
Stationed in the centre of the Oman box, Afif picked up a cross from Ali and then shot the ball past goalkeeper Ibrahim Al Mukhaini in a quick-thinking move late in the first half. Qatar - coached by Felix Sanchez - are now at the top of the group with six points after two matches in the 16-team tournament.
On Tuesday, a spirited Qatar beat Uzbekistan with a similar score at the Changzhou Sports Centre.
In another Group A match yesterday, Uzbekistan stunned hosts China 1-0 at the same venue to throw open the points race in Group A.
Qatar, once the game kicked off, dominated proceedings with early attacks. In the 6th minute, Afif fired a little wide from the centre of the Omani box after an assist by Abdullah Al Ahrak.
In the 22nd minute, Oman’s Muhsen Al Ghassani aimed for the left of the Qatari goal but his shot sailed past the crossbar following a cross from Jameel Al Yahmadi.
Nine minutes later, Qatar defender Bassam Al Rawi produced a snap-header from close range - after a cross from Ahmed Moen - but his deflection is blocked by Oman goalkeeper. Two minutes from the first-half whistle, Afif scored for Qatar - after a cross from Ali - to produce what was eventually the only goal of the hard-fought clash.
Close to the hour-mark, Oman’s ace striker Al Ghassani produced a left-footed drive from outside the Qatari box but his shot sailed past the right goalpost. Oman’s Azan Al Tamtami charged into the Qatari box in the 69th minute but Qatar defenders blocked the move with quick thinking.
In the 82nd minute, Qatar’s Sultan Al Brake has his shot blocked from close range after a cross by Hashim Ali. In injury time, Qatar nearly scored their second goal when Meshaal Al Shammeri went a little wide with his shot from close range after an assist by Moein.
Earlier, 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.
As the clock ran down however, Ergashev excelled yet again, this time gathering a fierce Tang drive and, much to the anguish of the home faithful, Wei thundered a shot against the woodwork on a day when Uzbekistan refused to relinquish their title hopes.
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.