Asian Cup 2019: Qatar seals Group E top spot with Saudi win

Qatar and Saudi Arabia began the day with six points each, the former ahead on goal difference.

Qatar players celebrate the 2-0 over Saudi Arabia on Thursday.   -  Reuters

Almoez Ali's brilliant brace sparked Qatar to a comfortable 2-0 win against Saudi Arabia in its last Asian Cup 2019 group stage match at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Sports City Stadium here on Thursday.

The Saudis got off to a cracking start, having over 60 per cent of the ball and exerting pressure on Qatar with incisive attacking play. Backed by a small, yet full-throated crowd, Saudi Arabia came extremely close to taking the lead just past the 20-minute mark. Fahad Al-Muwallad's strike from inside the area sneaked past the goalkeeper but crashed onto the upright and denied the Saudis the lead. Saudi continued to dominate and remained in control but Qatar slowly started to find its feet with its famed counter-attacking football.

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Qatar's Abdel Karim Hassan did stupendously well to win the ball in midfield and headed it to Amoez Ali towards goal. Ali, the top-scorer of the tournament, chested the ball down and burst into the box but was brought down as he lined up for the shot. Qatar skipper Hassan Al Haydos was greeted with boos as he stepped up to take the spot-kick but wasted the opportunity as he shot down the middle and goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais pulled off a fine save in the 38th minute. 

However, Al Owais could do little four minutes later when Ali beat him with ease. A terrible defensive lapse saw Ali find himself one-on-one with the 'keeper and buried it past him to put Qatar ahead on the brink of half-time.

Saudi Arabia coach Juan Pizzi's orders at the break seemed evident; push ahead and bag an early equaliser. Al-Muwallad had a half chance to restore parity four minutes from the restart but was well-closed down by the defence and Hatan Bahbri's shot at goal the next minute lacked the venom to beat the 'keeper.

Qatar seemed to have doubled its lead when the Saudi custodian punched the ball into his own net while trying to defend a corner. The referee, however, disallowed the goal adjudging that Ali had fouled the 'keeper. While the decision was dubious, it did not affect the outcome of the match as Ali rounded off a stunning performance by netting his second goal of the evening with 10 minutes to play. Ali's second goal of the night came from Abdulaziz Hatim's corner. It was strange that Ali, the prolific forward, was left completely unmarked and he towered over the defence to nod the ball into the right corner. It was Ali's seventh goal of the tournament, making him the first player to score as many goals in an edition since South Korea's Lee Dong-Gook scored six in 2000.

Ali's header proved to be the match-winner as Felix Sanchez's Qatar side kept its unbeaten record intact. Its third win of the tournament saw it finish on top of Group E with a perfect record of nine points, having hammered 10 goals along the way and conceding none.