VAR drama as Saudi Arabia roar back to beat Oman at Asian Cup

AFP , Tuesday 16 Jan 2024

Roberto Mancini's Saudi Arabia fought back from a goal down to defeat Oman 2-1 in the dying seconds at the Asian Cup on Tuesday, but only after some VAR confusion.

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia's defender #05 Ali al-Bulaihi heads the ball to score his team's second goal during the Qatar 2023 AFC Asian Cup Group F football match between Saudi Arabia and Oman at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on January 16, 2024. Photo: AFP


Also in Group F, Thailand beat Kyrgyzstan 2-0 with Supachai Chaided scoring both goals.

The ambitious Saudis beat eventual champions Argentina in the group phase of the 2022 World Cup and returned to Qatar as one of the favourites for the regional tournament.

They are seeking a record-equalling fourth continental crown, off the back of a big-money recruitment drive that has lured global stars such as Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo to the kingdom's domestic league.

Saudi Arabia is also set to host the 2034 World Cup.

Their opening match at the Asian Cup started badly -- and finished in farcical scenes in front of a crowd of 41,987.

Australian referee Shaun Evans gave a penalty for a trip on Oman's forward Muhsen Al-Ghassani, having checking the VAR screen.

Salaah Al-Yahyaei converted to give lower-ranked Oman a surprise lead after 14 minutes.

Oman sat back for the remainder of the first half, but Saudi Arabia failed to apply any serious pressure.

After the break the Saudis continued to huff and puff, but had only registered two shots on target by the hour mark.

As the clock ticked down and jeers began to ring out from the Saudi fans, the men in green needed a moment of magic.

And that was what they got, substitute Abdulrahman Ghareeb -- only on the pitch three minutes -- jinking his way through the Omani back line before stroking in the equaliser with 12 minutes left.

With parity restored, Oman -- who had lost goalscorer Yahyaei to injury -- were content to play on the break.

There were chances for another Saudi goal, before defender Ali Al-Bulayhi headed in from a corner deep into injury time.

The goal was disallowed for offside by the assistant referee, and was checked by VAR.

The Saudi player appeared in replays to have been onside, but Evans signalled he was sticking with the original offside call.

But moments later he changed his mind and awarded the goal, even though play had restarted.

It sparked jubilant scenes among most in the Khalifa International Stadium and there were more Saudi celebrations moments later when Evans blew the final whistle.

Earlier, Buriram United striker Supachai prodded in from close range on 26 minutes to give Thailand the lead over Kyrgyzstan.

He got his second in similar style just after the break when the ball again fell his way with the goal gaping.

Next up for Thailand is Oman on Sunday, the same day Saudi Arabia face Kyrgyzstan.

Reigning champions Qatar return to action on Wednesday when they will look to seal their place in the last 16 with victory over Tajikistan.

In the other game in Group A, China play Lebanon.

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