The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Asian Cup 2019: Qatar victorious over Saudi Arabia in Gulf blockade derby Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Asian Cup 2019: Qatar victorious over Saudi Arabia in Gulf blockade derby

Almoez Ali [R] scored a brace to give Qatar Group E's top spot [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 January, 2019

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
A 2-0 win against Saudi Arabia put Qatar to the top of the qualifying group.
This is it. The Asian Cup group stage has come to an end, and the fixture to conclude the pre-kock-out stage will be forever remembered as the most politically charged football game the Middle East has seen since Iran against the USA in the 1998 World Cup. 

The day started with a game between Oman and Turkmenistan. The Omanis had to win in order to progress, while a draw would have sent Peem Verbeek's men home. 

But a draw in this match, combined with another draw between Lebanon and North Korea, an unlikely accumulator to say the least, would see Palestine progress to the next stage. 

Ahmed "Kano" al-Mahjiri scored from a terrific free kick after 20 minutes to put Oman on top. Then five minutes before the half-time whistle, Turkmenistan drew level with a nice move and a solid goal by Altymurad Annadurdiyev.

In the second half, the Omanis gave everything they had, but the Turkmen did not give up, and it was a tight battle fought mostly in Turkmenistan's half.

In the 84th minute the defences gave way: Oman won a corner and after few passes within the box, Kano found Muhsen al-Ghassani, who struck from close range to make it 2-1.

In added time, it was all Oman. Muhammad al-Mosalami finished with style, making it 3-1, sending Oman to the knockouts, and Turkmenistan and Palestine home. 

Gulf blockade showdown

After Group E, Group F got in on the action with the most politicised and anticipated game in this phase of the competition - Qatar versus Saudi Arabia. 

The pregame met expectations with Saudi fans booing during the Qatari anthem, and no players shaking hands with their opponents. 

The Saudis, who enjoyed the support of their fans in the stands, made a couple of dangerous chances through Fahad al-Muwallad and Mohamed al-Fatil.

Qatar fans have been prevented from travelling to the UAE as part of the ongoing Emirati-Saudi blockade against Qatar.

Around the 35th minute, Qatar woke up. Ali Almoez and Akram Afif started threatening Mohamed al-Owais' goal,a and Almoez won a penalty in the 42nd minute after he was fouled in the box. Captain Hassan al-Haydos has somehow wasted the chance, driving the spot kick straight to the middle, with al-Owais saving comfortably.

The Saudis had regained their confidence, but couldn't transform an upbeat spirit into goals. But on the other side, Almoez was again found in the right place at the right time, taking advantage of a poor Saudi attempt at an offside trap to score his sixth goal of the tournament, from just three games. 

The Saudi fans booed, but the first half ended with the Qataris celebrating around the corner flag. 

The second half quickly developed into a rough fight for control, with attempts on goal from the Saudis. The Qataris scored another goal - cancelled by the referee - but scored the real thing in the 80th minute. Almoez Ali netted his seventh of the tournament to make it a clean 2-0 over Qatar's biggest footballing and geopolitical rivals. 

"They are not an enemy," Felix Sanchez Bas, Qatar's national coach told The New Arab after the match. "It is the Gulf Derby, yes, and we won it - so we are happy, but it's not an enemy or something. Only a good feeling before the real thing for us.

The result held until the final whistle, when all eyes turned to Lebanon vs North Korea. While the Koreans scored first, the Lebanese came back and were on the verge of qualifying heroically for the knockouts. Goals by Felix Milke, Hilal al-Helwe, and Hassan Maatouk made it 3-1, ten minutes before stoppage time. One more goal and Lebanon would qualify.

In added time, Mohamed Haidar received a yellow card for a nasty foul, just before al-Helwe notched his second - the goal Lebanon had been waiting for to make it 4-1.

But at the final whistle, the realisation dawned: Lebanon could have qualified as one of the best third-placed teams, but as they were equal in goals and points with Vietnam, the teams were split only by the number of cards received in the tournament's three games so far.

Lebanon had one card more than Vietnam. That injury-time yellow card picked up by Mohamed Haidar. Football is cruel sometimes, as Lebanon discovered this evening. 

The group stage is over and the Asian Cup is off for a break. In the next stage, every game matters, every card, every offside ruling, every ball struck.

And no fewer than eight Middle Eastern nations will be there to fight for glory. 

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More