Tajikistan reach Asian Cup knockouts, China on brink of exit

Doha: Debutants Tajikistan struck twice late on to beat Lebanon 2-1 and reach the Asian Cup knockout rounds yesterday but China's hopes are hanging by a thread after defeat to Qatar.

It was a night of drama as Group A drew to a thrilling conclusion full of twists and turns.

Hosts and holders Qatar were already through to the last 16 as group winners but China, Lebanon and Tajikistan were all fighting to progress with them.

The top two from each of the six groups qualify automatically but going with them are the four best third-placed teams, adding an extra layer of intrigue.

Tajikistan are one of the revelations of the tournament under their colourful Croatian coach Petar Segrt.

"Every day we stay here longer is fantastic. We have our first dream: we make the qualification. We have our second dream: we want to go to the second round. Now we dream again," he said.

"This is football. Every one of us has a dream."

Qatar finished with a perfect nine points, with Tajikistan on four, China two and Lebanon one -- and on their way home.

Tajikistan thought they had taken the lead on the cusp of half-time but the referee ruled the goal out for the tightest of offsides.

Their misery was compounded almost immediately after the restart when Bassel Jradi arched in a delicious strike from the edge of the area to put Lebanon ahead.

But Lebanon soon had a man sent off when a VAR check upgraded Kassem El Zein's yellow card for a studs-up challenge to a red.

With a man advantage, Tajikistan once again thought they had scored, but Alisher Dzhalilov's goal was scratched off again by VAR for a cruelly slender offside.

Parvizdzhon Umarbaev deservedly levelled in the 80th minute with a delicious, curling free-kick.

As things stood the Tajiks were going through, but they continued to push for a winner and got it in the second of 16 minutes of injury time through Nuriddin Khamrokulov's delicate backwards header.

Qatar defeated a blunt China 1-0 and the Chinese must now hope for a miracle -- that their two points is enough to qualify as one of the four best third-placed teams.

If China do go out they can have no complaints -- they failed to score in any of their three matches and could not beat or even draw with a much-changed Qatar side who had already topped Group A.

Hassan Al-Haydos's 66th-minute wonder goal gave the hosts and holders victory, and edged China towards the trapdoor.

A corner picked out Haydos lurking on the edge of the box and he lashed a volley into the net for the goal of the tournament so far.

China will rue several missed chances, especially in the first half, with Wei Shihao especially wasteful in front of goal.

"In the three games we played, a lot of chances we missed every game," said their Serbian coach Aleksandar Jankovic.

"If you don't score, you cannot expect a big result. We are disappointed of course because our destiny doesn't depend on us any more."

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