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Group A - MD3: Australia seal quarter-final slot

Bangkok: Australia secured one of the two places available in the quarter-finals of the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020 from Group A on Tuesday as Ramy Najjarine’s goal helped Graham Arnold’s side earn a 1-1 draw with Bahrain at Thammasat Stadium.

Mohamed Marhoon cancelled out Najjarine’s 34th minute opener with a fine free-kick in first half injury time, but it was not enough to deny the Olyroos a place in the next round or to help Bahrain towards the win they needed to stay in the competition.

The result means the Australians keep alive their hopes of a place at the Olympic Games for the first time since 2008, with the first three finishers in this year’s competition earning tickets to Tokyo 2020, while Bahrain go home.

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With so much at stake in the final group game, both sides struggled in the opening exchanges.

It was not until just before the half hour mark that the Bahrainis were presented a sniff of goal, but Ahmed Bughammar was unable to keep his close range header under the crossbar.

By the 34th minute, however, Australia had taken the lead with their first opportunity of the half.

Reno Piscopo composed himself after claiming the ball midway inside the Bahrain half and, with Arnold yelling “Look forward!” from the touchline the young winger did as instructed, releasing Najjarine with a perfectly weighted pass that he slipped past Ammar Ahmed.

But, rather than consolidate their lead, Australia were pegged back and with the last kick of the ball in the first half Bahrain were level.

Moments earlier Thomas Glover had instinctively thrown his right hand out to save a header from Abdulrahman Ahmedi, but two minutes later he could do little about the equaliser as Marhoon’s low curling free-kick gave the keeper little hope before it nestled in the corner.

Four minutes after the restart Hasan Jaffar Madan narrowly missed giving the Bahrainis the lead as he fired into the side netting when his feint granted him room in the Australia penalty area to pull the trigger.

Australia, meanwhile, were reduced to trying their luck from distance, with Najjarine testing the goalkeeper from distance and Piscopo sending his free-kick from outside the area harmlessly off target.

It was Bahrain, needing a win to advance to the knockout rounds, who looked the more likely to add to the scoreline, with substitute Mohamed Hardan forcing Glover into action from out wide but Arnold’s team held on to pick up the point needed to advance.

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