Debutants Tajikistan hit added time winner to beat Lebanon and head into last 16

January 22 – Tournament debutants Tajikistan defeated ten-man Lebanon 2-1 to book their passage to the round of 16 following a dramatic second-half comeback that culminated with Nuriddin Khamrokulov’s 92nd-minute winner. 

Petar Segrt and his Tajikistan had promised to create history and they delivered in style on a night that was not for the faint-hearted with two disallowed goals, a red card, and an injury-time winner. After 16 nail-biting minutes of added time at the end of the second half, the Tajiks ran to hug Segrt and celebrate with their fans. They will all be staying a little longer in Qatar.

Segrt introduced Shervoni Mabatshoev on the left following Amadoni Kamolov’s red card against Qatar, while his counterpart Miodrag Radulović entrusted both Alexander Michel and Nasser Nasser with a place in Lebanon’s starting XI.

Tajikistan and Lebanon both drew against China, a point that left the sides’ chances of advancing intact. The Lebanese in particular had been left frustrated by Aleksander Jankovic’s team as they hit the woodwork twice against an opponent that showed little interest in winning the match. It seemed that they were in for more frustration against the Central Asians.

Segrt had demanded that his team come out fighting, but in the early exchanges Lebanon dominated and Hussein Al Zein, with defenders ball-watching, let fly a stinging low attempt that Rustam Yatimov awkwardly dealt with.

There was little sign of the enterprising play that the Tajiks were praised for in their first two matches and Lebanon gained the upper hand, playing a 5-2-3 formation with Bassel Jradi supporting the two strikers in an advanced position.

Segrt’s team however had the best chance of the first half after a poor clearance by the Lebanese rearguard with Mabatshoev and Rustam Soirov combining to expose the back-peddling Lebanese goalkeeper Mostafa Matar, but Mabatshoev’s attempt hit the crossbar. Lebanon offered further danger with attempts from both Hassan Maatouk and Jadri.

On the stroke of half-time, Tajikistan had the ball in the back of the net when Mabatshoev got in behind Nasser and beat the Lebanese goalkeeper from a tight angle with a deflected shot. You could hear a pin drop in the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, but the VAR chalked off the Tajiks’s lead. The sides returned to the dressing room with no goals on the board, a logical scoreline after an underwhelming first stanza.

With 45 minutes to save their tournament, Lebanon came out all guns blazing and took the lead with a wonderful strike from Jadri, whose shot even a Yatimov at full stretch could not get his gloves to, 1-0.

Cue delirium on the Lebanese bench, but their joy did not last long. In the 54th minute, the referee, following an on-field review, had little choice but to send off Kassim Al Zein for taking out Alisher Dzhalilov.

It was a grim challenge that could have broken Dzhalilov’s leg and the red card gifted the tournament debutants a lifeline. Radulović took off Maatouk in a bid to protect Lebanon’s three points and, with China trailing against Qatar, a ticket to the last sixteen for the first time.

History then repeated itself. In the 69th minute, Tajikistan scored an equaliser after combining through the middle, but the VAR ruled out Dzhalilov’s low strike. Again, a marginal offside broke Tajikistan’s hearts, but after an attacking spell with more urgency, Tajikistan were third time lucky, Parvizdzhon Umarbaev curling a free-kick past Matar, 1-1.

Suddenly the tables were turned. With all of China, Lebanon and Tajikistan on two points, the Central Asians were going through on goal difference.

Writing his name in Asian Cup history, Khamrokulov then sent Tajikistan to the second round with a looping header.

In the remaining fourteen minutes of added time, replete with desperate Tajik defending, Lebanon kept knocking on the door, but from close range, Hilal El-Helwe failed to find the equaliser. Tajikistan belong to Asia’s best 16.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1713305054labto1713305054ofdlr1713305054owedi1713305054sni@i1713305054tnuk.1713305054ardni1713305054mas1713305054


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