Qatar’s Hassan al-Haydos (left) scored a brace and Mohamed Muntari (right) struck once to help their team beat Bhutan 3-0.
Qatar became the first side to book a spot at the 2019 Asian Cup and the next round of 2018 World Cup qualifiers on a busy day that showcased the politicking and problems the sport faces in its largest region.
With the Asian Football Confederation reeling from Monday’s news that one of its pillars, Nepal’s Ganesh Thapa, had been banned for 10 years for taking money during FIFA elections, Asia’s best tried to switch focus back to onfield events but other issues were evident.
Qatar, the 2022 World Cup hosts, were 3-0 winners over Bhutan at Changlimithang Stadium in the Thimphu mountains and they secured top spot in Group C when Hong Kong and China then played out a 0-0 draw in a politically tense clash.
Home fans booed during the playing of China’s national anthem and held up defiant banners at the Mong Kok Stadium, where there was a heavy police presence with organisers wary of trouble following last year’s pro-democracy rallies.
The draw left Hong Kong in position to grab second place in the group behind Qatar who have won all six matches.
Mohamed Muntari connected with Akram Afif’s cross from the left and scored Qatar’s opener on 22 minutes following a period of heavy pressure from the West Asians.
Hassan al-Haydos made it 2-0 on 36 minutes before the referee brought the first half to an end after the hosts defended stoutly with Jigme Tshering Dorjee pulling off a number of outstanding tackles in front of a boisterous Thimphu crowd.
Bhutan looked to have kept the Qataris at bay in the second half until al-Haydos completed his brace to make it 3-0 on the stroke of full-time, as the reigning Gulf champions maintained their 100% record. Qatar top Group C with 18 points, four clear of Hong Kong, who have just one game remaining, with China on 11 points following Tuesday’s goalless draw with Kim Pan-gon’s side.
The eight group winners and four best runners-up will qualify for the Asian Cup and the third round of World Cup qualifying in the continent and most of the fancied sides, bar China, look set to complete the straightforward task.
Cambodia, whose domestic champions Phnom Penh Crown FC have been hit by a match-fixing scandal which has led to seven players being suspended, were beaten 2-0 by Japan, who stayed clear in Group E.
Syria kept pace in second spot, one point back, after they struck in the 93rd minute to beat Singapore 2-1 at the citystate’s National Stadium, where security was increased because of the attacks in Paris on Friday.
Syrian coach Fajr Ibrahim opted for a traditional national team tracksuit during the post-match news conference after donning a white T-shirt of a smiling President Bashar al-Assad on Monday.
Yesterday’s 14-match schedule in Asia was kicked off by Iran beating US territory Guam 6-0 away despite four of their players and two members of staff being refused visas to enter the tiny island.
East Timor were also shorthanded, with seven nationalised Brazilians absent after complaints from rivals about their eligibility. They were trounced 10-0 by Saudi Arabia in Dili as the West Asians stayed top of Group A.
United Arab Emirates remained on their tails in second place after they beat Malaysia 2-1 in an empty stadium in Kuala Lumpur as the hosts served out a punishment for crowd trouble in their previous home defeat by the Saudis.
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