Defending Champions Saudi Overcome Spirited Tajikistan

(MENAFN- Gulf Times) Saudi Arabia survived a scare before eventually running out comfortable 4-2 winners against Tajikistan in their AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024 Group C clash at Khalifa International Stadium yesterday.
The defending champions showcased their array of attacking talents to lead the group ahead of a meeting with Thailand on Friday, with the Southeast Asian side also on maximum points after their impressive 2-0 win over Iraq earlier in the day.
Saad al-Shehri's side started on the front foot and found the breakthrough on 17 minutes. A quickly taken short corner kick routine gave Mohamed Waheed the opportunity to deliver a cross to the far post that was met with a thumping header by centre-back Rayan Hameed.
Tajikistan did not let their heads drop and were back on level terms six minutes later when Mehron Madaminov swung in a long cross that was nodded back by Amadoni Kamolov for Ruslan Khailoev to smash into the top corner.
Saudi went ahead again in the eighth minute of first half added time with Abdullah Radif racing clear on the right hand side before squaring a perfect pass for the on-rushing Haitham Asiri to sweep home.
Saudi Arabia widened their lead 10 minutes into the second half as a surging Radif found Asiri who then laid the ball for Yahya to place an accurate shot into the bottom corner past Hasanov.
Another quick break in the 61st minute saw Yahya get his second, the half-cleared ball fell kindly for the AFC U-23 Asian Cup 2022 Most Valuable Player on the edge of the box which the 22-year-old finished with a sumptuous strike.
Tajikistan responded almost immediately, pulling a goal back three minutes later after Kamalov went on a mazy run to fend off two Saudi markers before setting up substitute Rustam Soirov for a spectacular finish into the roof of the net from close range.
A misplaced pass from Waheed at the edge of his own goal with goalkeeper Saleem Al Absi out of position nearly set up a grandstand finish but Soirov's poor first touch after intercepting the pass saw the chance go to waste.
Soirov was in the thick of the action again in the 87th minute after referee Ko deemed that the Tajikistan player was brought down by al-Absi but the decision was overturned after a VAR review as Saudi Arabia saw out the win.
Earlier at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Thailand got off to a dream start to their campaign after they produced a 2-0 victory against Iraq. A clinical performance from Ithsara Sritharo's charges saw them net once in each half to secure a stunning result, which was also their first ever success against Iraq at U-23 level having lost three of their previous six encounters to date.
In the 26th minute, Erawan Garnier, the 18-year-old Olympique Lyonnais player who had been lively in his Thai age-group debut, popped up on the left to deliver a perfect cross that was met by right-back Waris Choolthong, who ghosted in to produce a calm first-time finish past Hasan.
Spurned opportunities again haunted Iraq as they fell further behind in the 65th minute. Turning provider, Waris curled in a perfect corner from the right that was met by half-time substitute Teerasak Poeiphimai, who guided his header into the far left of the goal.
Japan, South Korea off to winning starts in Group C
Earlier, Japan kicked off their campaign with a 1-0 win over China at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Group B despite playing most of the game with 10 men following Ryuya Nishio's early sending off.
Kuryu Matsui gave Go Oiwa's side an eighth minute lead only for Nishio to see red nine minutes later for violent conduct, but a stand-out performance in goal from Leo Kokubo ensured the 2016 champions started the tournament with a win.
Victory gives the Japanese the perfect start to their challenge for a second title and a place at a eighth consecutive Olympic Games in a challenging group that also features South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.
Meanwhile, Substitute Lee Young-jun's header deep into added time saw South Korea snatch a 1-0 win over United Arab Emirates at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium. The last gasp win means South Korea share the Group B top spot with Japan.
Korea dominated the early proceedings but UAE's compact defence made it very hard for the 2020 winners to find a way through as they were limited to attempts from outside the box.
South Korea face China next on Friday, while UAE will look to bounce back against Japan on the same day.


Gulf Times

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