Oman's Hilal celebrates Paraguay 2019 qualification
Pattaya: A relieved Oman head coach Talib Hilal hailed his players, and labelled goal scorer Sami Al Bulushi a hero, after his side booked their place at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Paraguay with a penalty shootout win over Palestine on Sunday.
Hilal's men had been 2-0 down with just eight minutes remaining in the all-important play-off for third at the AFC Beach Soccer Championship Thailand 2019, but two goals in three minutes from Al Bulushi took the match to penalties, where Oman prevailed 2-1.
"Now I can breathe," said the Omani head coach, who guided the West Asians to the Finals in 2011 and 2015.
"It was not an easy game. As I have said, I respect any team, and the game was tough. There was only chance if you wanted to go to the World Cup, and today was the chance for two teams."
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"After the last tournament in Malaysia (in 2017), where we didn't qualify, I started working the same day we were knocked out on as my dream was to play this (next) World Cup. I worked very hard from that day until today to prepare the team, bringing in new players with some experienced players.
"I worked very hard for two years, and now I can say Alhamdulillah, because we have achieved our goal.
"This win is for all Omani people, because we will be one of the 16 teams in the World Cup," he concluded.
Special praise was reserved for Al Bulushi (pictured above, centre), who played a key role in Oman's surge to the global Finals, not just in their final match, but throughout the tournament as a whole.
The 24-year-old scored six goals, finding the net in all five of Oman's matches, and Hilal paid tribute to the superb performances of a player making his first appearance at the Continental level.
"I'm happy because Sami is one of my new players," he said. "He has just joined the team in the last five months and this is his first international competition.
"He gave a very good performance, and on top of that, he is not 100 percent fit. He has a minor injury, but he gave what he says, and today I can say he is the hero of the team.
"He has a good future ahead, and I want to work hard with him to make him one of the best players in Asia."
While Oman celebrated, a crestfallen Imadeldeen Hashim was left to reflect on his Palestine side's cruel defeat, after they had been less than 10 minutes away from reaching the Finals for the first time.
Palestine, whose side comprised of 11-a-side footballers, defied all expectations to reach the semi-finals, and their head coach said he will be back to take them one step further in 2021.
"I am proud of my players," said Hashim.
"My dream was to go to Paraguay and to bring happiness to Palestine. I hoped we could play with the world's top 16 teams.
"I will not stop from this point. I will work hard with my players. 2019, my dream didn't come true, but I will try again.
"To return, after seven years, to reach the level of the fourth-placed team in Asia is very good."