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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 January 2019

Saudi Arabia on song in 2-0 win over Lebanon to seal last-16 berth at Asian Cup

Al Muwallad and Al Moqahwi on target as Saudis qualify from Group E

Saudi Arabia progressed to the knockout phase of the Asian Cup as they eased past Lebanon at Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai.

The three-time champions, who are looking to add to that tally for the first time since winning the title in the UAE in 1996, outclassed the Cedars, as they added a 2-0 win to their opening round thrashing of North Korea.

It means they are already assured of a place in the last 16 ahead of their final Group E match against Qatar on Thursday.

Although Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side were some way short of their best – they did not need to be to down a hard-working but limited Lebanon – their display was cheered to the echo by a crowd that was officially registered as 13,792.

The revamp of Al Nasr’s ground in Oud Metha has been one of the most visibly striking impacts of the UAE having hosting rights for this tournament.

The new incarnation is unrecognisable from the previous one, with either end pushed in closer towards the playing area, and squared off rather than rounded.

A new wraparound roof, onto whose canopies are projected lights of varying colours, also serves the purpose of trapping in crowd noise.

All the better for this fixture, given that the followers of both sides wanted to have their voice heard.

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Again, the fixture was some way short of being the sellout it was purported to be – with tickets unavailable online in the days leading up to it.

But those who were there made a substantial noise. As soon as the whistle blew for kick off, scores of supporters stationed at either end left their allocated seats, and congregated together in a swarm either side of halfway.

On one side was the red of the Lebanese, who found their voice with the aid of a drummer, whose set included leading a Viking Thunderclap.

On the other, the Saudi followers took their lead from a supporter with a megaphone, while others waved flags, and green and white streamers.

They had reason to roar the loudest when, after 12 minutes, Fahad Al Muwallad gave Saudi the lead.

The Al Ittihad forward had the chance made for him by a string of errors in the Lebanon defence.

It still needed to be finished, though, and he did so with style as he powered a half-volley in off the underside of Mehdi Kahlil’s goal.

The Lebanese support had no call to be silenced, though, as their players went straight on the search for parity.

They would have got it, too, had Joan Oumari not headed wide when unmarked at a corner.

It was maybe understandable the German-born defender snatched at the chance. He must have been salivating at the opportunity to register a goal while playing for his country in the continent’s leading competition – while playing at the ground where he plays his club football.

Lebanon were getting plenty of joy – all but the end product – from set pieces. Midway through the first half Felix Melki, the towering midfielder who is based in Sweden, just failed to apply the finishing touch to a testing free kick by Hassan Maatouk, Lebanon’s outstanding player.

Despite all of the Cedars’ resourcefulness – and they were not short of endeavour – it was clear Saudi Arabia were likely to have the greater finesse.

The Green Falcons doubled their advantage on 67 minutes when Hussain Al Moqahwi stole in behind Alexander Melki and turned in a cross from Hatan Bahbri.

That goal took the wind out of the Lebanon challenge, and they were unable to inflict damage of any sort on their opposition, as Saudi marched on.

Updated: January 12, 2019 10:06 PM

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