Qatar through to semis after late scare

Almoez Ali continued his rich vein of form at the AFC U23 Championship 2018 as his brace and Hisham Ali’s second half strike helped Qatar survive a late Palestine revival to seal a place in the semi-finals courtesy of an eventful 3-2 win.
The Al Duhail forward starred throughout an intriguing encounter to guide Qatar, who finished fourth at the competition’s 2016 edition, into the next phase and break Palestinian hearts after they had forced their way back into the game late on.
Qatar are now scheduled to meet either Iraq or Vietnam, who play Saturday, in the last four on Tuesday.

“We are very proud to have reached the last four of this very important tournament. My players have made a huge effort to reach this position and they gave everything (tonight), not just as individuals but as a team. I think Palestine showed great spirit and they tried until the very last minute, but over the course of 90 minutes, I believe we deserved the win,” Qatar coach Felix Sanchez said.

On a foggy night in Jiangsu province, it was tournament debutants Palestine who raced out of the blocks at the Changzhou Olympic Sports Center with striker Oday Dabbagh making the most of hesitancy in the Qatar defence to fizz a shot narrowly wide of the left-hand upright with only 40 seconds played.
Group A winners Qatar responded quickly, however, and Sanchez’s charges came close to taking the lead on seven minutes when Sultan al-Brake’s lobbed attempt from a quick Akram Afif free-kick landed on the roof of the net with Palestine goalkeeper Ramzi Fahkouri beaten.

Qatar continued to press their opponents, and after seeing Fakhouri make a fine save from his drilled shot, Almoez Ali finally broke the deadlock on 32 minutes, the livewire striker connecting with Bassam al-Rawi’s pinpoint pass to steer the ball home with an outstretched leg and claim his fourth goal of a memorable campaign.

With Qatar in the ascendancy, the irrepressible Almoez Ali was on hand once again to double his side’s lead just three minutes later, this time making no mistake from close-range following a fine al-Brake cross from the left.
Hisham Ali then forced Fakhouri into another fine stop shortly after the break, before the diminutive midfielder latched onto Salem al-Hajri’s pass to fire home from six yards and extend Qatar’s advantage.
To their credit, Palestine refused to buckle, and they duly reduced the deficit on the hour mark, Dabbagh converting Mahmoud Abuwarda’s cross with aplomb to give his team a glimmer of hope.

The goal clearly revitalised Palestine, as first Dabbagh blasted over the bar when well placed, and then Abuwarda had a shot deflected onto the bar by Qatar custodian Mohamed al-Bakri in the 76th minute.
Despite having Mohamed Bassim dismissed for a second bookable offence, Palestine continued to grow in confidence, and they ensured a nail-biting finale when Mohamed Darwish beat al-Bakri at his near post with a delightful free-kick on 87 minutes.
It was not to be for Palestine, however, as Qatar dug deep to preserve their lead in the game’s final moments and confirm their place in the semi-finals.

“We had a great second half, but just could not find the equaliser. This is certainly not the end for this team. We have a lot of young players who will be able to play at the next U23 Championship, and we will come back and do better next time. What we have done throughout the tournament has made me very proud of the team and what we have achieved here,” Palestine head coach Ayman Sandouqa said.

Source: Gulf Times