Saudi Arabia crash out of Asian Cup


DOHA – Jordan dumped three-times champions Saudi Arabia out of the Asian Cup on Thursday with a 1-0 victory courtesy of a goalkeeping howler by Waleed Abdullah. It has been a traumatic few days for Saudi Arabia, whose quest for a first Asian Cup since 1996 got off to a disastrous start when they were beaten 2-1 by outsiders Syria in their opening game on Sunday.
Portuguese Jose Peseiro, who had already been under severe pressure for failing to get Saudi Arabia to the World Cup, was promptly sacked as coach and replaced by Nasser Al Johar.
The regional giants become the first team to be eliminated from the tournament, while surprise-package Jordan are left sitting pretty at the top of Group B with four points, with one more game to go.
Syria, who have three points, and Japan, who have one and were one of the pre-tournament favourites, play later Thursday.
Saudi Arabia should have been ahead within a minute of the post-Peseiro era, but defender Osama Al Harbi completely missed his header right in front of goal when an inswinging corner somehow made it through a packed penalty box.
The Saudis were in control early on at the Al-Rayyan Stadium, cheered on by a sizeable travelling support decked out in green. Striker Naif Hazazi, one of the four new players drafted in, was at the centre of everything.
On 16 minutes his goal-bound header was clawed away by Jordan keeper Amer Shafi, and moments later the bouffant-haired Hazazi blazed just wide.
Hazazi went within inches of poking the ball in on the half hour, as the Green Falcons, as the Saudi team are known, continued to dominate.
But three minutes before half-time Jordan got the goal against the run of play. Baha Abdelrahman was left unchallenged and given all the time in the world to loft over a cross that inadvertently curled into the net.
It was a moment of horror for keeper Waleed, who totally misjudged the flight of the ball.
Jordan nearly got a second on the stroke of half-time, but the keeper went a small way toward making up for his catastrophic blunder by blocking with his legs from Odai Al Saify after the Saudi defence went awol. It was more Saudi pressure in the second period, but no matter how much they huffed and puffed, they could not break through Jordan’s stubborn rearguard. Saudi substitute Nassir Alshamrani was denied by goalkeeper Shafi after a fine run as the clock ticked down, but Jordan held on.
QATAR TRIUMPH: Qatar coach Bruno Metsu says his team finally showed their true colours by beating China at the Asian Cup and is confident they can push on and make the knockout rounds for only the second time ever.
The Qataris pulled themselves together with Yusef Ahmed scoring twice to help restore the country’s pride. It was a badly needed morale boost for a nation that will host the 2022 World Cup, and their fate is now firmly in their hands.
They have three points in Group A, alongside China, with Uzbekistan on six points and Kuwait with none.