Lebanon and Iraq close in on place in Finals, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia draw
Bangkok: Lebanon kicked-off their 2018 AFC Futsal Championship West Zone Qualifiers campaign with a 3-1 win over Jordan, Iraq beat the United Arab Emirates 2-0 while Bahrain and Saudi Arabia settled for a 1-1 draw on Saturday.
Group B: Lebanon 3-1 Jordan
Jordan started the match cautiously, knowing that even a draw would mean a top two finish, but Lebanon were looking to open their qualifying campaign with a win.
Salah Mohd Yusri's charges were mostly pinned back in their half, but would sporadically break out of from their zonal defence to a man-to-man marking which limited Lebanon's hold of the ball.
Lebanon, however, took the lead in the sixth minute, when Jordanian goalkeeper Yusef Ahmad tried to block a corner kick, only for it rebound into goal.
Fiteen minutes in, Jordan's fifth foul saw Lebanon awarded a free-kick in front of the box. The goalmouth look impenetrable with five men standing in front, but the ball bounced off the Jordanian wall and into the net.
Mutaz Mohd Musa Abu (pictured below) had a few attempts that gave Lebanon a reminder of Jordan's prowess.
Three minutes later, he could have reduced the deficit when he dribbled past Lebanon's defence but his shot struck the upright, which sent a wave of disappointment in the Jordanian camp.
Jordan started the second half brightly with Majdi Waleed Faiq fighting off two defenders before his cross found Ahmad Amer Samara, who hit home to make it 2-1.
The back-and-forth encounter was truly action packed and in the 31st minute, quick one-touch passes by Lebanon's Ali Tenich and Ali El Homsi resulted in a goal, with El Homsi etching his name on the scoresheet.
Jordan could hardly retain ball possession, and when they did, their direct passes were easily intercepted.
With that, their qualifying campaign ended with three points, level with Lebanon.
Lebanon will qualify for the Finals if they avoid defeat against Qatar in their final match on Sunday.
Shahab Sofalmanesh: Lebanon Head Coach
"Today was our first game, and every minute into the game, the players got used to the pitch, atmosphere and pressure. Before the match, we have analysed Jordan's past performance, even in the 2017 Asian Indoor Games in Turkmenistan. We knew what they were capable off, and we identified every player as well. From now on, we will forget about today and we will face Qatar tomorrow as the finals."
Juma Ibrahim: Jordan team representative
"We had a good game today, but we made two mistakes that cost us the game. Lebanon is a good team for sure, but in the future, we will need to play without these mistakes. We will wait for tomorrow's result, but we are confident we are going to qualify."
Group A: Bahrain 1-1 Saudi Arabia
Prior to the match, Bahrain led the Group A standings with three points, while Saudi Arabia had one point after a draw with the United Arab Emirates on Matchday One.
Saudi Arabia were in control in the opening minutes, but a swift counter-attack in the second minute led Jassam Saleh Anan surging down the right flank before crossing to Fallah Abbas Yusuf to score from close range.
Yves Heremans’ side positioned themselves on four corners and managed to create gaps in the Bahraini defence with their superb passes around, but their shots on target couldn’t beat custodian Sayed Mohamed Abbas.
In the 19th minute, Saudi Arabia racked up six fouls and Jassam stepped up to take the spot-kick looking to double the lead, but Abdullah Khatim denied it with ease to keep the score 1-0 at half-time.
The Saudis continued their dominance in possession, but their strategy had a weakness against counter-attacks because they weren’t able to react in time, and Bahrain waited for a chance to pounce.
The lack of goals were definitely not reflective of the action displayed at the Bangkok Arena, with Saudi Arabia’s Aroan Nawaf making most of their attempts but to no avail, until the 35th minute when his shot proved too fast for Sayed to block in time.
Without that goal advantage, Bahrain slowly came out of their defensive shell, but Saudi Arabia’s pressure was too much.
Bahrain lead the standings with four points, leaving the group very much open.
Adel Marzooq: Bahrain Head Coach
“Coming into the match, we had the advantage because we had three points. So Saudi Arabia had to come in aggressively to win, which made us play defensively. But after a while, we got used to being in defence, that’s why we didn’t have much possession. We are still top of the table right now, so we have the upper hand going into tomorrow’s match. We will qualify and we will do it by our own means.”
Yves Heremans: Saudi Arabia Head Coach
“I believe we deserved to win. We had majority of the possession but we had an early mistake. We had countless tries and a few hit the post, we need to improve on our finishing and it’s also a little bit of luck involved. Tomorrow, we meet Iraq, and they are a good team, but I believe every team are equal, and it’s the little details that change the game.”
Group A: UAE 0-2 Iraq
It was an exciting match-up, as the UAE and Iraq started aggressively.
After an opening day 3-2 defeat to Bahrain, Iraq needed a win to ensure they had a fighting chance to qualify.
With pressure comes the urge to win, and Hasan Ali Jabbar found the goal they were desperate for in the 11th minute.
Just seconds later, Mohamed Hassan Alhammadi came the closest foe the UAE to equalise in the first half but his shot struck the post.
While the UAE were more organised in their attacks, they lacked the finishing touch and they paid the price.
With three minutes left on the clock, Iraq pounced on a bad tackle with Ali Jabbar Abed surging down the middle and side-stepped UAE keeper Jabir Mohamed before passing to Mustafa Bachay Hamzah to double their lead.
Iraq’s win means they sit second in Group A, with a decisive Matchday Three to determine the group winners.
Abdulroaf Omar: UAE Assistant Head Coach
"Today we did everything we could but didnt score. We were the one creating the chances. However, our players definitely improved today after yesterday's match. We were just unlucky, and even if we drew today, we still need to win tomorrow. Now, the team knows they need to win, and we have a good chance to qualify."
Haitham Abbas Bawei: Iraq Head Coach
"We had the same performance as we had yesterday, only today we took the chances. We had divided the players accordingly to keep the pressure from beginning to end. And when they activated power play, we closed the gaps in between and defended well."
Photos: Football Association of Thailand