This is it. The Asian Cup group stage has come to an end, and the fixture to conclude will be forever remembered as the most political football game the Middle East has seen since Iran against the USA in 1998 World Cup.
The day started with the game between Oman and Turkmenistan. The Omanis had to win in order to progress, while a draw would have sent Peem Verbeek’s guys home. A draw in this match, together with another one in the game between Lebanon and North Korea, would send Palestine to the next stage.
Ahmed Al-Mahjiri ‘Kano’ scored in a terrific free kick after 20 minutes and have put Oman on top. Just when it seemed to go their way, Turkmenistan, that a victory in the game would have sent them to the next round have tied five minutes before the halftime whistle, with a nice move and a solid goal by Altymurad Annadurdiyev. 1-1.
In the second half, the Omanis have given everything the had, but the Turkmen did not give up as well, and it was a tight battle mainly happened between their box to the middle of the pitch.
On the 84th minute the blockade broke: Oman won a corner and after few passes within the box, Kano founded Muhsen Al Ghassani, who stroke in from a close range. 2-1 to the Omanis, and on this stage they were through, while the Palestinians were out.
In extra time, it was all Oman. Muhammad Al-Mosalami finished with style, made it 3-1, sent Oman to the knockouts, and Turkmenistan and Palestine - home.
After Group E, Group F got into action with the most politicized and anticipated game in this phase of the competition - Qatar versus Saudi Arabia.
The pregame answered the expectations as the Saudi fans booed during the Qatari anthem, and none of the players nor the captains, have shook hands.
The Saudis, who enjoyed the support of their fans in the stands, got to a couple of dangerous chances through Fahad Al-Muwallad and Mohamed Al-Fatil.
Around the 35th Qatar woke up. Ali Almoez and Akram Afif have started threatening Mohamed Al-Owais’ goal. Almoez has won a penalty in the 42nd minute after he was fouled in the box. Captain Hassan Al-Haydos has somehow wasted the chance, as he kicked the spot kick straight to the middle when Al-Owais saved with his legs.
The Saudis have regained their confidence, but couldn’t translate it into goals. From the other side, Almoez was again in the right time, took advantage of a bad offside trap by the Saudi defence and scored his 6th goal of the tournament, in three games.
The Saudi fans booed, but the first half ended with the Qataris celebrating around the corner flag.
The second half has developed into a rough game with attempts by the Saudis, but they had no luck. The Qataris have scored another goal that was suspiciously cancelled by the referee, but on the 80th minute it was the real thing - Almoez Ali netted his 7th in the tournament and made it a clean 2-0 over the biggest rivals.
“They are not an enemy. It is the Gulf Derby, yes, and we won it so we are happy, but it's not an enemy or something. Only a good feel before the real thing for us”, Bas told BabaGol.
The result held until the final whistle, but then the focus moved to the other game between Lebanon and North Korea. While the Koreans scored first, the Lebanese came back and were on the verge of qualifying heroically to the knockouts. Goals by Felix Milke, Hilal Al-Helwe, and Hassan Maatouk made it 3-1, ten minutes to stoppage time. One goal and Lebanon would have qualified for the next round.
In extra time, Mohamed Haidar was penalized for a foul - argued with the referee - and got a yellow card, as Al-Helwe notched the goal they were waiting for and made it 4-1. At the final whistle, the disaster was unveiled: Lebanon could have been qualifying as one of the best third places, but as they were tied in goals and points with Vietnam, what counted at this point were the cards. Lebanon had one card more than the East Asians. That yellow card by Mohamed Haidar. Football is cruel sometimes, and Lebanon discovered just how true that is this evening.
The group stage is over and the Asian Cup is off for a break. From the next stage, every games matter, every card, every offside, every ball. Eight Middle Eastern nations will be there to fight for it.