Asian Cup 2019

Qatar not the favourites, says coach Sanchez

Qatar's Almoez Ali celebrating with Hassan Al-Haydos after scoring his team's goal in the 2-0 Asian Cup win over Saudi Arabia on Thursday. The Qataris will next face 2007 champions Iraq in the last 16 while the Saudis will take on 2011 winners Japan.
Qatar's Almoez Ali celebrating with Hassan Al-Haydos after scoring his team's goal in the 2-0 Asian Cup win over Saudi Arabia on Thursday. The Qataris will next face 2007 champions Iraq in the last 16 while the Saudis will take on 2011 winners Japan.PHOTO: REUTERS

ABU DHABI • Qatar beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 on Thursday to finish top of Group E in an Asian Cup match that garnered more attention for geopolitics than sporting rivalry.

The derby clash was the first time the two sides had met since a bitter political dispute began between the Gulf Arab states 18 months ago.

Saudi Arabia, joined by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, cut ties with Qatar in June 2017 over allegations it supports terrorism, a charge Doha denies.

Forward Almoez Ali's brace was enough to see off the Green Falcons in front of an almost entirely pro-Saudi 16,067-strong crowd in Abu Dhabi.

Qatar now face 2007 Asian Cup champions Iraq in the knockout stage. Saudi Arabia, group runners-up, meet 2011 champions Japan.

"Every game is going to be hard," Qatar head coach Felix Sanchez told reporters. "We don't consider ourselves favourites."

Saudi Arabia coach Juan Pizzi criticised his team's poor performance in front of goal and said individual errors cost them a game in which they controlled possession. Forward Fahad Al-Muwallad could have opened the scoring in the 22nd minute when he beat the goalkeeper but was denied by the post.

  • LAST 16

    Jordan v Vietnam

    Thailand v China

    Iran v Oman

    Japan v Saudi Arabia

    Australia v Uzbekistan

    UAE v Kyrgyzstan

    South Korea v Bahrain

    Qatar v Iraq

Qatar had a goal disallowed in a contentious decision in the 59th minute. The video assistant referee (VAR) system being introduced in the knockout stages could not have come sooner.

Despite the political context, the match was mostly played in good spirit with the players appearing to be extra polite after committing fouls in the early stages.

But at the end Saudi forward Mohammed Alsaiari was seen pushing some of the celebrating Qataris, gesturing for them to leave the pitch.

Pizzi declined to comment on the incident, telling reporters it had "nothing to do with football".

The top two of each of the six four-team groups plus the best four third-placed teams advance to the last 16.

Bahrain, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Vietnam have scraped through to join Jordan, Thailand, China, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Uzbekistan, UAE, South Korea, Qatar and Iraq in the next stage.

REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2019, with the headline 'Qatar not the favourites, says coach Sanchez'. Print Edition | Subscribe