Qatar beat unravelling Tajikistan to secure last 16 spot

January 17 – Qatar have booked their place in the Asian Cup Round of 16 after defeating Tajikistan 1-0 in a hard-fought victory at the Al Bayt Stadium.

It was star duo Almoez Ali and Akram Afif that combined for the only goal of the game, as the strike partnership continued to impress at the Asian Cup in their home nation.

Off the back of an encouraging display versus China, Tajikistan proved to be a tough test for the reigning champions. Fluid and effective in their build-up play, it was the team’s composure in the final third that let them down.

The game opened with some interesting changes made by each coach, as star man Akram Afif was deployed on the left wing as Qatar sought to take advantage of his take-on ability.

As the match wore on, the eventual man-of-the-match returned to his signature free-roaming style designed to give Tajikistani defenders a man-marking headache.

Despite their underdog status, Tajikistan surprised their opposition with a stong start to the game, using their stylish build-up play to force important saves from Qatari goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham in the opening stages.

All the Tajikistan work in the early stages of the game was undone as Qatar take the lead with Afif’s tidy finish in the 18th minute from a Qatar breakaway – his third goal of the tournament.

Tajikistan were furious with the referee, who appeared to get in the way of their defenders as Qatar broke, but since the referee didn’t physically touch the ball, there was no ground to reverse the goal. The Tajikistan bench felt vociferously otherwise.

Following the controversy, the mood around the pitch became increasingly ill-mannered as Tajikistan’s early composure melted away. Fuelled by a sense of injustice, the Tajikistani press intensified – epitomised by striker Soirov’s sliding tackles to win back the ball in the opposition third.

After a period of positive play, Tajikistan escaped a penalty decision as Almoez Ali’s face was brushed by the hand of the Tajikistan defender. After a lengthy VAR check, the referee brought play back to award Tajikistan a free kick as it was Ali who actually committed the foul, wrapping his arms around Dzhuraboev in an attempt to win the ball.

The tension between the team, including manager Tajikistan manager Petar Šegrt, and the referee was at fever pitch building towards the half time break.

Thriving under the Tajikistan disorganised aggression, Qatar were able to fashion a number of high-quality attacking opportunities as half time approached, almost doubling the lead with an Almoez shot that was brilliantly blocked on the line by Zoir Dzhuraboev.

Qatari midfielder Fathi was given a yellow card in the 45th minute for a sliding challenge that caught #7 on the ankle. Looking at the placement of the midfielders’ studs on the opposition, he was lucky to escape a red.

Both teams opted for an attacking change at half time. Šegrt’s switch from Soirov Rustam to Samiev Shahrom made a notable difference, with the new attacker creating a physical mismatch that the Qatari defence initially struggled to cope with.

Afif’s constant involvement made the difference for Qatar, creating the key link between attack and midfield. Messi-esque in his freedom of positioning, he was impossible for the opposition to man-mark as he occupied spaces on either flank as well as the middle of the pitch.

In the 59th minute, Qatar brought on veteran Hassan Al Haydos, who immediately took the armband off of Afif, in a bid to sure up the midfield and see out the game. Al Haydos, who has over 150 caps for Qatar, showed composure and experience in his 30-minute cameo as he led his side towards a deserved victory.

It was a 76th-minute lash out from Tajikistani midfielder Kamolov Amadoni that piled on to Tajikistan’s woes. Following a nasty challenge on Kamolov which originally earned the player a free kick, the Tajikistani’s foot deliberately struck the chin of Qatar’s Ganehi in retaliation to being fouled.

After a lengthy VAR check, the yellow card initially given to Kamolov was withdrawn and replaced with red, as Tajikistan’s collapse of discipline resulted in them being reduced to 10 men.

The midfielder will be a big miss for Tajikistan’s crucial Group A finale versus Lebanon later this week as the side scrambles to secure a place in the round of 16.

Now a man up and in complete control of the game, Qatar dominated possession. Unfazed by the 11 minutes of additional time, the hosts saw out the remainder of the match comfortably to book them a ticket to the Round of 16.

They face China in the final match of Group A.

Tajikistan look to their match versus Lebanon in a must-win affair for both sides, who sit joint-bottom of the group on a singular point. A win could be enough to book their place in the next round through third-placed qualification, unless China beat the Qataris.

Contact the writer of this story, Harry Ewing, at moc.l1709100154labto1709100154ofdlr1709100154owedi1709100154sni@g1709100154niwe.1709100154yrrah1709100154


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