Saudis toil into Asian Cup last 16, Thailand inch closer

By AFPT   January 21, 2024 | 07:17 pm PT
Saudis toil into Asian Cup last 16, Thailand inch closer
Thailand's Theerathon Bunmathan (R) during the Asian Cup group stage game against Oman on Jan. 21, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa
Roberto Mancini's Saudi Arabia reached the Asian Cup knockout rounds on Sunday with a labored 2-0 win over a Kyrgyzstan side who played most of the second half with nine men.

Also in group F, an unadventurous Thailand held Oman 0-0 to inch towards the last 16 in Qatar.

Mancini's men are ranked 56 in the world to Kyrgyzstan's 98 but they made hard work of their depleted opponents before joining holders Qatar, Iran, Iraq and Australia in the next round.

Mancini, who won the European Championship with his native Italy in 2021, played down Saudi Arabia's chances of lifting the Asian crown for a fourth time.

"The rankings say Japan, Korea, Iran, Australia -- and we are too far," he said.

The Saudis, who came back to claim a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Oman in their opening game, have six points from two matches.

Kyrgyzstan were the clear underdogs even with 11 men and their task was made a lot harder after just nine minutes when Ayzar Akmatov was sent off for a studs-up challenge.

Akmatov was initially yellow-carded but the referee flashed the red after a VAR check.

The Saudis could not immediately turn the numerical advantage into goals, with Feras Al-Brikan missing two big chances.

The frustration looked set to continue when Abdulelah Al-Malki hit the post, but Saud Abdulhamid collected the rebound and crossed the ball back into the box for Mohamed Kanno to volley home on 35 minutes.

Kyrgyzstan were reduced to nine men in the 52nd minute after another VAR red-card check saw Kimi Merk dismissed for another bad tackle.

Saudi substitute Faisal Al-Ghamdi finally added a second goal in the 84th minute, letting fly a shot from the edge of the box that goalkeeper Erzhan Tokotaev fumbled into the goal.

"From my side, after the second red card it was just a question of the score," said Kyrgyzstan coach Stefan Tarkovic.

Thailand blunt Oman

Thailand coach Masatada Ishii was "really happy" with a point after his side held a blunt Oman goalless.

Following a lively first half, Oman sought to apply pressure after the break, the midfielder Salaah Al-Yahyaei prodding away at the Thai defense but finding no way through.

At the other end, Buriram United striker Supachai Chaided -- who scored a brace in Thailand's opening 2-0 win over Kyrgyzstan -- cut an increasingly isolated figure.

"When we went into this match we wanted three points, but as the game went by, we saw what can be done," said the Japanese coach, whose side sit second behind the Saudis going into the final round of group games.

"We are really happy with one point."

On Monday, Qatar face a China side who are in pole position to join them in the last 16 from Group A.

Lebanon face Tajikistan in the other game, with both also still alive in the tournament.

The top two from each group plus the four best third-placed teams progress to the next stage.

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