Saudis twice recover to quell Uzbeks in qualifiers


KUALA LUMPUR — Saudi Arabia twice came from a goal deficit to defeat Uzbekistan 3-2 in Group D of the Asian Qualifiers on Thursday in Tashkent. It was a crucial win for Saudi Arabia, who went into the tie trailing Uzbekistan in the standings, as the three-time Asian Cup winners moved to the top of group.

The Central Asians applied heavy pressure and were rewarded after just 16 minutes, with Ikromjon Alibaev forcing Saudi defender Yasir Gharsan Alshahrani into making a poor back pass, which Eldor Shomurodov neatly intercepted and blasted past ‘keeper Mohammed Alowais.

Saudi Arabia pushed the hosts back in search of the equalizer. The visitors had that chance six minutes later, when Rustamjon Ashurmatov brought down a surging Feras Tariq Albrikan in the box, and referee Ryuji Sato did not hesitate in pointing to the penalty spot, which Saudi skipper Salman Al Faraj neatly converted.

Uzbekistan, 10 minutes into the second half, were awarded a penalty when Alshahrani was fouled for handling the ball and Shukurov made no mistake with the spot kick. Head coach Herve Renard then sent on Abdulaziz Al Beshi and Nawaf Al Abed in the 62nd and 72nd minutes to rejuvenate Saudi Arabia’s attack and they threw bodies forward in search of goals.

The Uzbek defense eventually cracked in the 85th minute as Salem Al Dawsari’s cross was not properly dealt with by Farrukh Sayfiev, and Saudi captain Al Faraj volleyed home the loose ball to make it 2-2. Vadim Abramov’s charges were now under pressure and cracked again just before the 90th minute mark as Al Dawsari beat the Uzbekistan defenders and lobbed the ball over ‘keeper Eldorbek Suyunov to complete the comeback win.

In Dushanbe, super-sub Seiminlen Doungel helped India salvage a 1-1 draw with Afghanistan in their Asian Qualifiers Group E tie. The draw takes Afghanistan to four points while India are still awaiting their first win, having drawn two and lost one of their previous three matches.

Afghanistan scored a minute into added time for the first half with Zelfagar Nazary breaking the deadlock, with Najem assisting, but Dpungel’s heroics restored parity.

In Amman, substitute Ali Abbas’ added-time strike secured a famous 2-1 victory for Iraq against Iran at Amman International Stadium. Going into the match, the two sides were separated by a single point at the summit of Group C, with Iraq leading the standings with seven points.

But Bahrain’s goalless draw in Hong Kong meant whichever side that won the tie would have earned the top spot. Iraq got off to a flying start as Persepolis midfielder Bashar Resan supplied a pinpoint cross from the right into the path of Ali Adnan who swept it first time at the far post.

The left-back’s shot was parried by Alireza Beiranvand, but only as far as Mohanad Ali who rifled the ball into the roof of the net to put the Lions of Mesopotamia in the lead after just 11 minutes. Iran drew level in the 25th minute through Ahmed Nourollahi.

A tight second half changed drastically as Iran were reduced to 10 men as Masoud Shojaei was sent off for a second booking in the 81st minute.

That was followed by a dramatic finish as, replacing goalscorer Ali, substitute Abbas added his name to the scoresheet in the second minute of added time.

In Dubai, Zhang Linpeng’s own goal 14 minutes from time earned Syria a 2-1 win over China PR at the Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium here as Fajr Ibrahim’s side opened up a five-point gap at the top of Group A.

Guangzhou Evergrande defender Zhang put the ball in his own net after Wu Lei had earlier canceled out Osama Omari’s header to leave Marcello Lippi’s side in second place in the group, level on seven points with the Philippines after four matches. Syria lead the group with a maximum 12 points from their first four games.

In Hanoi, Nguyen Tien Linh’s wonder strike was the difference as Vietnam defeated the UAE 1-0 at My Dinh Stadium to move top of Group E. Thailand’s 2-1 defeat to Malaysia in the other fixture means Vietnam overtake the War Elephants into top spot with 10 points, while the UAE drop to third place with six points from two wins and two defeats.

Bert van Marwijk’s UAE side traveled to Hanoi without their top scorer in the qualifiers Ali Mabkhout, while there was a debut for his Al Jazira teammate Abdullah Ramadan. Vietnam host Thailand on Tuesday in a clash of the top two sides in the group, while the UAE’s next game takes place in March when they host Malaysia.

In Beirut, Korea Republic dropped points for the second successive match as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Lebanon in a closely contested Group H encounter.

Following on from their stalemate with DPR Korea in Pyongyang, Paulo Bento’s charges were unable to find a way past a resolute Lebanon defense and impressive host goalkeeper Mehdi Khalil, although the result has left them one point clear at the summit.

The draw, meanwhile, has lifted Lebanon to second and left them hot on the heels of their table-topping opponents who will now not be in action again until March’s home game against Turkmenistan. Lebanon will be back in action on Tuesday when they host DPR Korea. — Agencies