Asian Cup: Qatar restore pride with China victory

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Yusef Ahmed fired a brace to help restore Qatar’s pride and their hopes of reaching the Asian Cup knockout rounds in an entertaining 2-0 victory over China on Wednesday.

It was a badly needed morale boost for the host nation after their opening defeat to Uzbekistan and leaves Group A finely poised with the Uzbeks on six points and China and Qatar on three with one more game to play.

Kuwait are hanging on by their fingernails with no points so far and a must-win clash against Qatar awaiting them on Sunday.

At a near-capacity Khalifa Stadium, Ahmed struck a glorious goal on 27 minutes to put his side in front, cleverly controlling a high ball before volleying it into the top corner.

With an expectant nation watching, the 22-year-old doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time, dealing a demoralising blow to a young Chinese side that beat Kuwait 2-0 in its opening match.

Qatar coach Bruno Metsu, whose job would have been under threat if they had lost, said he was proud of the way his team bounced back from their opening loss.

“We wanted to show the real face of our team and the players have done that. They have shown their potential and I’m very proud of their performance,” said the Frenchman.

“We will try to do the same against Kuwait and qualify for the next stage.”

Despite losing, China coach Gao Hongbo said it was a good experience for his young team but admitted they needed to make more of their chances.

“Our team did not do well in attack. Qatar got two goals and we didn’t give them enough pressure so Qatar were able to organise their attack very easily,” he said.

“We lost but I think losing is part of life and I think we can do better in the next game, which is now very important for us.”

It was a fast and furious game with Qatar opening in lively fashion.

Their Uruguayan-born striker Sebastian Soria had an early sniff of goal when he rose above the Chinese defence soon after kick-off, only to angle his header narrowly past the post.

Qatar were exerting good early pressure but they were almost caught napping on a counter-attack with Deng Zhuoxiang having a free header when he met a Rong Hao cross on six minutes.

The Shandong Luneng midfielder should have scored, but put the ball directly into goalkeeper Qasem Burhan’s arms.

Soria also had a wonderful chance on 10 minutes but with only the goalkeeper to beat, he hooked the ball wide of the post to the dismay of under-pressure coach Bruno Metsu.

China, being rebuilt under coach Gao Hongbo, were dangerous on the break and Burhan did well to collect a high ball sent in by Yu Hai with Deng lurking dangerously for any errors midway through the half.

Qatar though were equally threatening and Ahmed rifled a shot from the edge of the box into the side netting soon after.

With the momentum building in their favour, he broke the deadlock with a wonderful strike, controlling the ball with his knee before volleying it past flailing Chinese keeper Zeng Cheng.

Ahmed turned the screws on the stroke of half-time, swivelling away from his marker and planting his shot beyond the outstretched arms of Zeng to send the crowd wild.

Qatar played a defensive game in the second period with China pressing forward, looking for a way back. Substitute Yang Xu had their best chance but his shot from the edge of the box fizzled wide.

The ever-dangerous Soria almost made it 3-0 in the 64th minute after heading the ball down and unleashing a rocket, but his shot whizzed past the post.

Qatar are attempting to improve their poor record at the continental championship – they have only made the knockout rounds once before, in Lebanon in 2000, when they lost in the quarter-finals.

China have fared better. While never crowned Asian champions, they were runners-up in 1984 and 2004.

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