HONG KONG: Three-time AFC Asian Cup winners Saudi Arabia and former finalists the United Arab Emirates maintained their perfect records in qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup finals on Tuesday evening with victories over Iraq and Hong Kong respectively that took them both a step closer to booking their berths at Australia 2015.
Goals from Osama Hawsawi and Nasser Al-Shamrani secured the three points for Saudi Arabia, who won the title in 1984, 1988 and 1996, as Juan Lopez Caro’s side opened a five-point gap over second-placed China, who drew 1-1 with Indonesia in Jakarta, with three games remaining in Group C.
“I thank all the players for their impressive performance today as the win was really important to get us closer to qualifying for the Asian Cup,” said Lopez Caro. “It added a lot for us as our position now is good and hopefully we can continue to be at the top of the group.”
Ali Mabkhout, meanwhile, scored a hat trick as the United Arab Emirates moved within touching distance of qualifying for the finals after a comprehensive 4-0 win over Hong Kong lifted the Gulf Cup champions five points clear at the top of Group E.
Walid Abbas was also on target at Hong Kong Stadium as the Emirates maintained their perfect record with a third consecutive win having earlier beaten Vietnam and 2011 finalists Uzbekistan.
And with Uzbekistan scoring three times in the second half to record a 3-1 win against Vietnam, the UAE extended their lead over the Central Asians and Hong Kong at the halfway mark of qualifying for the 2015 finals in Australia.
“We have accomplished the third step in this qualification. We have three steps to go and we are near to qualifying, but in football you never know,” said UAE coach Mahdi Ali.
“When you say you will win today or tomorrow, they’re easy words to say but to win on the field isn’t so easy. We played well today and I hope that we can continue to play like this.”
The UAE will seal qualification for the finals with two games to spare with victory over Hong Kong in Abu Dhabi next month, while Uzbekistan travel to Hanoi to faceVietnam.
In Group D, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha equalized with 20 minutes remaining as Malaysia denied Bahrain a third consecutive win in Group D after coming from behind to earn a 1-1 draw at Shah Alam Stadium.see more