A red-hot opening half-hour helped Qatar climb to the top of Group A in the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020 qualifying with a convincing 2-0 win over Afghanistan on home soil at Aspire Zone Friday.
Two goals in the opening 35 minutes proved insurmountable for Afghanistan, as the Qataris made a successful first step in their bid to return to the Finals, where they finished third in 2018.
Boasting a strong line-up featuring AFC Asian Cup-winning stars Bassam al-Rawi and Tarek Salman, Qatar were in the ascendancy from the beginning, and they took the lead after a marauding run from Abdurahman Moustafa set up Hassan Ahmad Palang for a close-range finish in the 13th minute.
Albert Caballeria’s men continued to pile on the pressure, and they doubled their lead when Al Duhail’s Abdullah al-Ahrak converted a penalty kick 10 minutes before half-time.
Afghanistan fought valiantly after the break, but they were unable to make any inroads on the scoresheet, and they suffered a late blow when captain Amanullah Sardari was shown a second yellow card in the third minute of stoppage time.
Qatar will look to continue their strong start against Nepal tomorrow, while Afghanistan need a result against Oman, who beat Nepal 1-0 Friday, to keep their qualification hopes alive.
While an early goal from Yousuf al-Malki proved decisive, Oman squandered a number of chances to extend their lead, particularly in a dominant second half display.
The Omanis came into the tie as warm favourites, and took the lead when an overlapping al-Malki found space on the left hand side before beating Nepal goalkeeper Arpan Karki with an accurate low finish on 13 minutes.
Nepal held their own in the minutes that followed, although Oman came closest to finding the net before half-time, with Zahir al-Aghbari hitting the upright in the 34th minute.
After the break Oman assumed full control of the tie, but they were persistently thwarted in their search for a second goal, with Karki making a save to deny Muhsen al-Ghassani and then al-Aghbari, while al-Malki sent a thunderous long-range effort into the crossbar.
Qadhafi al-Mahruqi wasted another opportunity when he missed a free header in the dying minutes, but it had no impact on the end result, as Oman ensured they will go into tomorrow’s meeting with Afghanistan with three points under their belt.
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