• Soccer

Al-Haydos’ Spectacular Volley Sees Asian Cup Host Qatar Finish Group Stage in Style. China Must Wait

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
China’s goalkeeper Yan Junling, left, fails to block a shot by Qatar’s Hasan Al Haydos to score the opening goal during the Asian Cup Group A soccer match between Qatar and China at the Khalifa International stadium in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. Qatar’s won 1-0.

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Asian Cup host Qatar finished its group stage in style on Monday with a spectacular volley from Hassan Al-Haydos for a 1-0 win over China, which is on the brink of elimination from the tournament.

The deadlock at the Khalifa International Stadium was broken midway through the second half with an unforgettable strike. Akram Afif’s corner was immediately met outside the area by Al-Haydos, who confidently volleyed into the top corner. Both players had just been introduced as substitutes.

Qatar, which had already secured its spot in the knockout stage, topped Group A with nine points and advanced with Tajikistan, which beat last-place Lebanon 2-1 to take second with four points.

China finished with just two points and failed to score in any of its three games. It has never won the Asian Cup and must now wait for other results and hope to squeeze into the next round as one of the four best performing of the third-place teams in the six groups.

“In the three games we played, we missed a lot of chances every game,” China coach Aleksandar Jankovic said. “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.”

The Serbian said he understands that his position as head coach, which he started in February 2023, may be under threat.

“There are two types of coaches in general — those who have been fired and those who will be fired,” he said. “When you accept to do this job, you accept both.”

Qatar may have lost all three games on home soil at the 2022 World Cup but has been perfect in the Asian Cup, advancing to the round of 16 by winning all three games without conceding a goal.

Already certain of top spot heading into the match, defending champion Qatar made nine changes from its previous game, handing the initiative to China which created better chances in the first half.

Wei Shihao had three opportunities to score his team’s first goal. After just seven minutes, he side-footed wide from just inside the area and then later his low shot from close range was saved by Saad Al Sheeb.

Wei went close again just before the break with a header that just cleared the bar.

After Al-Haydos’ superb goal in the 66th, China had the ball in the net with three minutes remaining but Jiang Shenglong’s shot was ruled out as the ball had gone out of play in the buildup.

In the group’s other fixture, Tajikistan rallied to beat Lebanon and advance to the knockout stage for the first time.

“We made history today and this is the biggest thing for the Tajikistan people,” Tajikistan coach Petar Segrt said. “It was difficult but we kept fighting and we did it.”

Lebanon took the lead early in the second half with a curling shot from Bassel Jradi but was reduced to 10 men after 54 minutes because of a foul by Kassem El-Zein.

Tajikistan had two goals ruled out for offside but finally scored with 10 minutes remaining. Parvizdzhon Umarbaev scored and then Nuriddin Khamrokulov headed home a winning goal in the second minute of second-half stoppage time.