Goals from Abdulrahman Ghareeb and Ali al-Bulayhi earned Saudi Arabia a dramatic 2-1 comeback victory over Oman in Group F of the AFC Asian Cup at Khalifa International Stadium Tuesday.
Oman led for over an hour of the match, but a late resurgence from the Saudis secured their first three points.
Roberto Mancini’s men dominated the early proceedings, with Oman sitting deep, remaining compact and looking to hit on the break. From one such quick counter-attack, defender Hassan Tambakti was left chasing Mushen al-Ghassani and eventually brought him down inside the box. Salah al-Yahyaei stepped up and sent goalkeeper Ahmed al-Kassar the wrong way from the spot to convert the resulting penalty and put Oman in front after 14 minutes.
The crowd thought Saudi Arabia had equalised when Ahmed al-Khamisi missed his attempt to clear Saud Abdulhamid’s cross from the right and the ball found its way to Sami al-Naji who had the goal at his mercy from five yards out, but the attacking midfielder was caught off-guard and was unable to take his chance.
Oman had to be rescued by goalkeeper Ibrahim al-Mukhaini when Mohamed Kanno sent a diagonal ball into the box that was headed back across by Abdulhamid and Abdullah Fawaz’s attempt to intercept it almost resulted in an own goal if it wasn’t for the quick reflexes of al-Mukhaini who kept his side in the lead at the break.
Saudi Arabia continued pushing forward in pursuit of an equaliser after the restart and came close after eight minutes when Kanno cut inside from the left and looked to find the bottom corner, but al-Mukhaini was alert to the threat and made the save.
A minute later, Saleh al-Shehri nearly found the leveller when he chested down the ball inside the box and hit it on the half-volley, but his effort passed just over the crossbar.
Oman had a golden opportunity to double their lead midway through the second half when al-Ghassani broke free down the left and cut back for substitute Mataz Saleh who struck from just outside the box, but al-Kassar was able to deny his effort.
With Saudi Arabia trailing going into the final 15 minutes, Mancini introduced winger Ghareeb off the bench and was rewarded almost instantly as the al-Nassr man danced his way past three Omani defenders before tucking the ball away into the back of the net to restore parity in the 78th minute.
The Green Falcons’ comeback was completed in the sixth minute of added time when Ghareeb’s cross from the corner was nodded on by Ali Lajami for his centre-back partner al-Bulayhi who sent it home with a diving header.
Oman will look to bounce back when they take on Thailand on Sunday, with the latter already on three points having secured a 2-0 win against Kyrgystan who will be Saudi Arabia's next opponents later on the same day.
Saudi Arabia's defender #05 Ali al-Bulaihi scores his team's second goal. AFP
Saudi fans take their seat for the the match. AFP
Saudi Arabia fans in the stands. REUTERS