Bangkok: Lebanon missed out on just a second AFC Asian Cup appearance on goal difference despite beating Thailand 5-2 on Wednesday in Group B.
First half goals from Mohamad Ghaddar, Hassan Maatouk and Hassan Ali Saad offset a penalty from Teeratep Winothai as Lebanon chased the win they needed at Rajamangala Stadium regardless of the result of the meeting between Iraq and China in Group C.
But despite Maatouk and Roda Antar adding to the total in the second half to hand Lebanon the advantage they needed, a 75th minute penalty from Thailand substitute Adisak Kraisorn proved crucial as China progressed despite losing 3-1 to Iraq in Sharjah.
“This is a good team, we have trained together for one year and every player displayed good teamwork. The match with Thailand was a fair game as the players performed with good sporting spirit,” said Lebanon assistant coach Carlo Gaiby.
“We missed out on qualifying for the finals by just one goal but that is football and we cannot do anything about that. The players did their best and we accept the result of the match.”
Lebanon began the game at a frenetic pace and took the lead inside the first minute as Ghaddar met the first corner of the contest with a powerful header.
A shell-shocked Thailand struggled to contain the waves of attack from Giuseppe Giannini’s side and Lebanon went further ahead on 19 minutes as a headed clearance from goalkeeper Siwarak Tedsungnoen only went as far as Maatouk who chipped the stranded custodian from 25 yards out.
But a minute later the home side pulled one back after Teerasil Dangda was fouled inside the penalty area by Haytham Faour and Teeratep stepped up to convert the spot-kick, sending goalkeeper Abbas Hassan the wrong way.
An end-to-end contest produced yet another goal before half-time as a right-wing cross from captain Antar was bundled home by Ali Saad to hand Lebanon a two-goal advantage at the break.
With China 2-0 down to Iraq in Sharjah at half-time, Lebanon were still short of goals in order to turn around the six goal differential between themselves and the East Asians.
And after the break they stunned their hosts once more in the first minute as a long kick downfield from Hassan was flicked onto Maatouk who blasted past Siwarak.
Antar was next on the scoresheet just two minutes past the hour mark as Maatouk’s shot was blocked only as far as the lurking midfielder on the edge of the penalty area and he caught the ball sweetly on the volley to stretch the advantage to four.
But with just 15 minutes remaining, second half substitute Adisak ran down the right channel, held off Youssef Mohamad, and fired past Hassan to break Lebanese hearts and send China through to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
“I would like to say sorry to the Thai football fans that we ended the tournament by conceding five goals which was a disappointing score line for the team,” said Thailand coach Kiatisak Senamuang.
“We have had little time to prepare the team with only two days to get the players together which affected our teamwork and we conceded some easy goals.
“We will have to do better than this in the upcoming Asian Games if we want to challenge for the gold medal.”