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11 December 2023

Qatar restore pride with China win

Uzbekistan players, left, greet Kuwait players after Uzbekistan won their AFC Asian Cup group A soccer match by 2-1 at Al-Gharafa Stadium, in Doha, Gharafa. (AP)

By Reuters

Yusef Ahmed fired a brace to help restore Qatar’s pride and their hopes of reaching the Asian Cup knockout rounds in an entertaining 2-0 victory over China on Wednesday.

It was a badly needed morale boost for the host nation after their opening defeat to Uzbekistan and leaves Group A finely poised with the Uzbeks on six points and China and Qatar on three with one more game to play.
Kuwait are hanging on by their fingernails with no points so far and a must-win clash against Qatar awaiting them on Sunday.
At a near-capacity Khalifa Stadium, Ahmed struck a glorious goal on 27 minutes to put his side in front, cleverly controlling a high ball before volleying it into the top corner.
With an expectant nation watching, the 22-year-old doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time, dealing a demoralising blow to a young Chinese side that beat Kuwait 2-0 in its opening match.
It was a fast and furious game with Qatar opening in lively fashion.
Their Uruguayan-born striker Sebastian Soria had an early sniff of goal when he rose above the Chinese defence soon after kick-off, only to angle his header narrowly past the post.
Qatar were exerting good early pressure but they were almost caught napping on a counter-attack with Deng Zhuoxiang having a free header when he met a Rong Hao cross on six minutes.
The Shandong Luneng midfielder should have scored, but put the ball directly into goalkeeper Qasem Burhan’s arms.
Soria also had a wonderful chance on 10 minutes but with only the goalkeeper to beat, he hooked the ball wide of the post to the dismay of under-pressure coach Bruno Metsu.
China, being rebuilt under coach Gao Hongbo, were dangerous on the break and Burhan did well to collect a high ball sent in by Yu Hai with Deng lurking dangerously for any errors midway through the half.
Qatar though were equally threatening and Ahmed rifled a shot from the edge of the box into the side netting soon after.
With the momentum building in their favour, he broke the deadlock with a wonderful strike, controlling the ball with his knee before volleying it past flailing Chinese keeper Zeng Cheng.
Ahmed turned the screws on the stroke of half-time, swivelling away from his marker and planting his shot beyond the outstretched arms of Zeng to send the crowd wild.
Qatar played a defensive game in the second period with China pressing forward, looking for a way back. Substitute Yang Xu had their best chance but his shot from the edge of the box fizzled wide.
The ever-dangerous Soria almost made it 3-0 in the 64th minute after heading the ball down and unleashing a rocket, but his shot whizzed past the post.
Qatar are attempting to improve their poor record at the continental championship — they have only made the knockout rounds once before, in Lebanon in 2000, when they lost in the quarter-finals.
China have fared better. While never crowned Asian champions, they were runners-up in 1984 and 2004.
Earlier, Uzbekistan became the first side to reach the Asian Cup quarter-finals when they beat Kuwait 2-1 on Wednesday thanks to a superb strike from former Asian player-of-the-year Server Djeparov.

With the game locked at 1-1 with 25 minutes remaining and Kuwait threatening, Djeparov took advantage of the space afforded to him on the edge of the area to fire a first-time, left-foot shot which curled away from a diving Yaqoub Al Taher in the Kuwait goal.

The result put Uzbekistan on six points in Group A after their second win of the tournament and left Kuwait on the brink of an early exit.

An entertaining second-half was in mark contrast to a drab first, which was witnessed by just 3,481 fans at the 22,000 capacity Al Gharafa Stadium on another chilly early evening in Doha.

The Uzbeks enjoyed the best of the first-half, producing a number of neat, short passing moves but, lacking pace in attack, they came to nothing.

They took the lead, however, four minutes before the interval in fortunate circumstances when Maksim Shatskikh's

22-metre free kick took a big deflection off a team mate.

The 32-year-old struck a curling right-foot effort which struck the back of a ducking Azizbek Haydarov, who was making a nuisance of himself in the defensive wall, which diverted the ball past a befuddled Al Taher.

Kuwait began the second half in a much brighter, energetic fashion with substitute Hamad Nayef going very close with a glancing header within 90 seconds of the restart before earning his team a penalty minutes later.

The dimunitive striker was brought down by a needless challenge from Anzur Ismailov on the edge of the area and Bader Al Mutwa sent Uzbek keeper Ignatiy Nesterov the wrong way from the penalty spot.

The equaliser brought the game to life and both sides had chances to take the lead before Djeparov, who was always a threat playing just off striker Alexander Geynrikh, struck the wiJner which was deserving of a bigger audience.