Debutants Tajikistan reach Asian Cup knockouts, China on brink

Debutants Tajikistan reach Asian Cup knockouts, China on brink

January 22, 2024 at 6:09 PM
Tajikistan's players celebrate their win over Lebanon
Tajikistan's players celebrate their win over Lebanon. Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP
Source: AFP

Debutants Tajikistan struck twice late on to beat Lebanon 2-1 and reach the Asian Cup knockout rounds on Monday but China's hopes are hanging by a thread after defeat to Qatar.

It was a night of drama as Group A drew to a thrilling conclusion full of twists and turns.

Hosts and holders Qatar were already through to the last 16 as group winners but China, Lebanon and Tajikistan were all fighting to progress with them.

The top two from each of the six groups qualify automatically but going with them are the four best third-placed teams, adding an extra layer of intrigue.

Tajikistan are one of the revelations of the tournament under their colourful Croatian coach Petar Segrt.

"Believe me, I don't care who is coming," the 57-year-old told beINSPORTS, asked who he wanted to face next.

China's defender Tyias Browning saw his team lose 1-0
China's defender Tyias Browning saw his team lose 1-0. Photo: KARIM JAAFAR / AFP
Source: AFP

"This is a historic moment. Tomorrow we will have a meeting with the president of our country."

Qatar finished with a perfect nine points, with Tajikistan on four, China two and Lebanon one -- and on their way home.

Tajikistan thought they had taken the lead on the cusp of half-time but the referee ruled the goal out for the tightest of offsides.

Their misery was compounded almost immediately after the restart when Bangkok United forward Bassel Jradi arched in a delicious strike from the edge of the area to put Lebanon ahead.

But Lebanon soon had a man sent off when a VAR check upgraded Kassem El Zein's yellow card for a studs-up challenge to a red.

With a man advantage, Parvizdzhon Umarbaev levelled in the 80th minute with a free-kick.

As things stood the Tajiks were going through, but they continued to push for a winner and got it in the second of 16 minutes of injury time through Nuriddin Khamrokulov's delicate backwards header.

In the other game, Qatar defeated a blunt China 1-0 and the Chinese must now hope for a miracle -- that their two points is enough to qualify as one of the four best third-placed teams.

If China do go out they can have no complaints -- they failed to score in any of their three matches and could not beat or even draw with a much-changed Qatar side who had already topped Group A.

Hassan Al-Haydos's 66th-minute wonder goal gave the hosts and holders a perfect three wins from three in Doha.

A corner picked out Haydos lurking on the edge of the box and he lashed a volley into the net.

China will rue several missed chances, especially in the first half, with Wei Shihao especially profligate in front of goal.

AFP photo