Oman’s Tokyo hopes dashed
Oman suffered a double blow on Tuesday when it was held to a 2-2 draw by hosts Qatar in the concluding Group A match of the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020 Qualifiers in Doha.
The draw helped Qatar qualify as group winner, edging Oman on goal-difference.
The result not only denied Hamad al Azzani's men a place in the AFC Championship next year but also dashed their hopes of having a chance to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
There was extra significance for the AFC U23 finals, which is to take place from January 8-26, 2020, as the top three teams qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in July, although should Japan emerge as one of them, the fourth-placed side will advance. Following the conclusion of all the AFC U23 qualifiers, Oman failed to even make it as the four second-best teams in the 11 groups.
Jassim al Shukaili, the Oman Football Association (OFA) vice-president, expressed his disappointment on the team’s failure and ‘apologised to the fans’ in the sultanate on Twitter.
On Tuesday, it was a second-half brace from Hassan Ahmed Palang that proved crucial for the hosts. Oman goalkeeper Ibrahim al Mukhaini made a good save in the 15th minute to deny Qatar going ahead.
Mukhaini's intervention seemed even more important as Oman scored five minutes later, thanks to a strong header from Amran al Hidi, which
Qatar goalkeeper Yazan Hussein got a hand to, but couldn't keep out. Oman's Muhsen al Ghassani found the net in the 43rd minute, but the hosts were given a reprieve as the goal was ruled out for offside.
Qatar only had to wait until five minutes into the second half to find the equaliser, with Palang showing great poise and no shortage of strength to nod a header past Mukhaini for 1-1.
Palang put Qatar into a commanding situation when he latched on to a Abdullah al Ahrak pass to score another header - and give his side the lead - in the 73rd minute.
Oman refused to wilt, and it equalised when Saud al Habsi produced a strong header four minutes later.
Oman needed one more goal to win the match, top the group, and salvage its campaign but it faced an uphill battle when Asad al Awadi was shown a second yellow card with three minutes remaining. Qatar held firm to ensure it will be there to contest the AFC U23 title in January.
In the same group, Afghanistan ended its campaign with the joy of a parting triumph, as it beat Nepal 2-0.
Defending champion Uzbekistan were among the 16 countries that booked their places in the AFC U23 finals.
Besides the 11 group winners, the four second-best placed teams that qualified were Australia, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
The 11 directly qualified teams were Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, UAE, Jordan, Uzbekistan, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China and Vietnam. Thailand completed the line-up of 16 teams for the finals as a host nation.