Abdulkareem al-Ali came off the bench to net the only goal as Qatar booked their place in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup with a 1-0 win over Malaysia at the Shah Alam Stadium yesterday.
The Qataris only needed a draw to qualify for Australia but al-Ali turned in Khalfan Ibrahim’s cross in the 65th minute to ensure that Fahad Thani’s side confirmed their progress from Group D with something to spare.
The result also dented Malaysia’s hopes of progressing to the finals as the best third-placed team as they remained on four points, two behind Iraq from Group C.
Needing a win to remain in the hunt for second place in the group, Malaysia threatened after 10 minutes when Safee Sali brought the ball down in the box but the striker was quickly closed down by the Qatari defence before he could muster an attempt on goal.
Qatar responded five minutes later when Abdel Karim Hassan sent a cross into the Malaysian box which was meant for incoming Hasan al-Haydos only for goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat to punch clear.
Malaysia came closest to finding the net in the first half when Safee just failed to connect with Norshahrul’s delivery into the box in the 36th minute while Mahalli Jasuli failed to turn Amri Yahyah’s cornet onto the target just before half-time.
Al-Ali came on at the break for Ali Afif and Qatar offered the greater threat in the second half before the substitute made his mark with 25 minutes left.
He was left unattended as Ibrahim drew the attention of the Malaysian defence towards him on the right flank before lobbing the ball into the box for al-Ali to tuck it away.
With time running out, the hosts piled on the pressure and Muhammad Nazmi was presented with an opportunity five minutes from time but the midfielder drilled his low shot wide of the right post.
The final whistle signalled Qatar’s progression to the Asian Cup finals for the ninth time in 10 attempts while Malaysia must beat Yemen in March and hope for help elsewhere in order to earn a spot in Australia.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan and Oman also stormed into the Asian Cup but China hit a stumbling block and Iran’s bid was complicated by the fall-out of a deadly suicide blast.
The Uzbeks and Oman both left it late before downing Hong Kong and Syria respectively, while China’s bid will go down to the wire after a 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia. Iran, meanwhile, will have to play yesterday’s away game with Lebanon behind closed doors after a suicide blast struck outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut.
Officials barred fans from the qualifier, where Iran need only a draw to go through, after the double suicide attack killed at least 23 people.
Yesterday’s results mean 10 teams are now confirmed for the next Asian Cup, including hosts Australia and defending champions Japan, midway through the penultimate full round of qualifiers.