Syria, Uzbekistan into Asian Cup last 16 as China go out

AFP , Tuesday 23 Jan 2024

Syria made history by following Uzbekistan into the Asian Cup knockout rounds on Tuesday -- confirming China's exit at the first hurdle.

Syria's forward #07 Omar Khribin celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the Qatar 2023 AFC Asian Cup Group B football match between Syria and India at Al-Bayt Stadium in al-Khor, north of Doha, on January 23, 2024. Photo: AFP


Omar Khribin was Syria's hero in Doha, his 76th-minute goal the difference in a 1-0 victory over Igor Stimac's India.

It is Syria's first time into the knockout rounds of the Asian Cup.

Australia topped Group B following a 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan, Hector Cuper's Syria going through to the last 16 with those two teams as one of the best third-placed teams.

India came bottom and are heading home with no wins or goals, while the day's action also meant it was curtains for China, who had hoped to sneak through with their third place and two points in Group A.

Syria, Australia, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Iran, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia and hosts and holders Qatar are all into the knockout phase.

"We are very happy with the qualification, very proud of my players, they made huge sacrifices to get this result," Syria's Argentine coach Cuper said.

"We played the game with one aim in our mind -- to win, and we managed to do that.

"We don't want to stop here."

Despite another early exit -- in what was a hard group -- Stimac said India would take home "good lessons".

"It was a learning experience for the boys," he said, having seen his team beaten 2-0 by Australia and 3-0 by Uzbekistan.

"My satisfaction is that we managed to create chances against Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria."

In the other game between Uzbekistan and Australia, who had already qualified, the Socceroos took a controversial lead through a Martin Boyle penalty in first-half stoppage time.

A VAR check harshly ruled that the ball had hit Uzbek defender Odiljon Hamrobekov's hand in the build-up as he slid in to tackle Australian forward Kusini Yengi.

Boyle dispatched the penalty low into the corner.

"If this is a penalty I don't understand the rules. There is no intention," said Uzbekistan coach Srecko Katanec.

The Uzbeks, who have been touted as outsiders for the title, levelled 12 minutes from time when substitute Azizbek Turgunboev got on the end of a cross to head home.

It was the first goal that Australia have conceded in three matches, but they have only scored four times themselves.

"I thought that we played some good combination football, some good attacking football, but it's the last pass," said coach Graham Arnold.

"That's down to the individual. The individual has to be able to put them in the back of the net -- I can't do that."

In later games on Tuesday, Palestine face Hong Kong and Iran play the United Arab Emirates.

Iran are already through and the other three are all still alive in the competition.

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