The round of 16 of the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE is over, with the matches between Bahrain & South Korea and Qatar against Iraq.
Throughout the tournament, the Bahraini national team has been accompanied by an unpleasant story regarding human rights. Hakeem Al-Araibi, an ex-Bahraini International footballer, who fled the country to Australia after allegedly being targeted by authorities for expressing his views during the Arab Spring, has been held in detention in Thailand in the past two months. Despite Al-Araibi’s refugee status in Australia, Thailand has an extradition treaty with Bahrain, and the moment he has arrived in the country for his honeymoon vacation, he was arrested. The story has been part of an alive debate in different Australian and western media outlets before the Bahraini team’s games.
Despite playing against South Korea in their upgraded version, with Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-Min (who joined the Koreans in the middle of the tournament), the Bahrainis can be proud of themselves. For a team based almost completely on semi-professional league players, Bahrain did not fall off their legs against one of the best teams in Asia. Moreover, they held them into extra time.
South Korea has found the net in the 43rd minute thanks to a great contribution by Son, that with one pass has broken the Bahraini defence and Hwang Hee-Chan sent a deflected ball straight to the net of goalkeeper Sayed Shubbar.
Although conceding on the verge of the halftime whistle is never a good go, Mohamed Al-Romaihi, Ali Al-Safi and Sayed Dhia has given every drop of blood they had for this game. On the 77th minute it paid off as Al-Romaihi himself has equalized after a quick counter-attack. The Koreans were in a state of shock and the game went to extra time.
While Bahrain aimed to survive the extra 30 minutes, the Koreans looked for the goal and found it. In the 105th minute, a great lob by Lee Yong has found the head of substitute Kim Jin-Su, who entered the game only ten minutes before. 2-1 to South Korea and their Portuguese coach Paulo Bento, who survived the second part of the extra time and completed their qualification to quarterfinals.
Bahrain, who fought hard, finished their Asian Cup campaign with a lot of compliments. Now, they will have to face the demands to drop the charges against Al-Araibi, and let the Bahraini-Australian refugee the right to return home.
On the second game of the night Qatar and Iraq have played in the main event of the round of 16, and it was an emotional one.
The first half was an intense duel between two teams, but then Iraq started to suffer. First Humam Tariq went out with an injury and was substituted by Ali Husni. Then, Husni himself was injured and was replaced by Mahmoud Dawood.
The Annabis of Felix Sanchez continued their terrific form from the group stage and kept the high pressure on their Iraqi opponents, but in the second half they were more organised at the back and waited for Iraq to act.
On the 60th minute, Bassam Al-Rawy, an Iraqi born Qatari, who his father played for the Iraqi national team in the past, scored a beautiful free kick, that neither the Iraqi wall or Jalal Hachem could have saved. 1-0 Qatar, and from there on, Qatar did not slip for a second.
Al-Rawy, who also scored against Lebanon in a free kick, is the first player to score two direct free-kicks in a single Asian Cup tournament since Cesar Fabio (also for Qatar) in 2011.
The Iraqi’s tried, and while the support they received in the crowd was huge, they simply couldn’t reach a decent scoring chance. If it wasn’t enough - Alaa Mhawi was injured, and another substitution was forced on Srečko Katanec and his side.
Even with a few tries by Ali Adnan and Mohanad Ali in the stoppage time, nothing could have changed the result - Qatar qualified for the quarterfinals. With this victory, Qatar has reached the quarter-final stages of the Asian Cup for the third time ever (2000, 2011 and 2019). In the process, they are still yet to concede a goal at this year’s tournament. Now, South Korea is waiting for them, in a match they will miss Abdelkarim Hassan the left back who has been essential for them throughout the competition.
Qatar is doing a historical tournament in the UAE, however, they have never progressed beyond the quarterfinals. Can they break this record too?