Al Ain, United Arab Emirates
Qatar showed patience and maturity to pick up a 2-0 win over a determined and well-organised Lebanon at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium as Felix Sanchez’s side notched up an opening victory in Group E of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 on Wednesday.
Second-half goals from Bassam al-Rawi and Almoez Ali gave the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts all three points at the end of a challenging encounter to move Sanchez’s team level on three points with Saudi Arabia at the top of the early standings.
Recently crowned AFC Player of the Year Abdelkarim Hassan was left on the bench by Sanchez as the Spaniard started al-Rawi at left-back, but the 25-year-old was to make an impact later in the game.
The two teams fought out a tight and absorbing opening quarter of the game, with few opportunities as the defences dominated. Indeed, it took until the 37th minute for fans of either side to have anything to cheer for when the Lebanese thought they had taken the lead.
Ali Hamam raced off to celebrate with his teammates after slotting Hassan Maatouk’s corner into the Qatari goal, only for the sound of the Lebanese fans to drown out referee Ma Ning’s whistle with the Chinese official blowing for a foul on Tarek Salman.
In an opening period of few chances, it was Lebanon who looked more likely to score, with Maatouk pulling the trigger on an effort of his own just before halftime, but his scissor kick flew high over the bar.
Two minutes after the hour mark, Hassan was finally introduced from the bench for Abdulkareem al-Ali and within three minutes the Qataris had taken the lead when al-Rawi struck.
Referee Ma awarded two free-kicks in succession, with Maatouk booked for handling the ball at the first, and Miodrag Radulovic’s team was made to pay a heavy price as al-Rawi sent a dipping curling right-footed effort over the wall and beyond the outstretched hand of Mehdi Kahlil.
With Hassan giving Qatar added thrust down the flanks and Abdelaziz Hatem bringing tenacity to midfield when he replaced Karim Boudiaf, Sanchez’s side carried the greater threat as the game wore on.
So it was no surprise when they added a second with 11 minutes remaining. Hassan’s driving run created space for Akram Afif and, when the winger received the ball, his centre found Hatem, whose shot was saved by Kahlil. But Ali was on hand to roll the ball into the empty net to ensure a winning start to the campaign for Qatar.