(MENAFN- The Peninsula) By Rizwan Rehmat / The Peninsula
Qatar yesterday produced a fighting 1-1 draw against Syria to secure a berth at the AFC U-23 Asian Cup finals to be held in China next year.
In the last match of the AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifying event, Qatar yesterday opened the scoring through Sultan Al Barik, who found the Syrian net with a spectacular direct free-kick in the 37th minute.
Syria equalised in the 60th minute when Mohammed Rafat Muhtadi beat Qatar defenders with a slick snap-header under lights as Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium.
Earlier in the day at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, India beat Turkmenistan 3-1 to finish third in the four-nation qualifying event.
Despite the draw yesterday, Syria also qualified for the China finals.
While group winners Qatar (7 points) automatically qualified for the AFC U-23 Championship, Syria finished the Doha event in second spot with 5 points.
According to AFC rules, the five best runners-up across all groups will also qualify for the finals. However, if hosts China win their group or are among the best five runners-up, the sixth best runner-up will also qualify.
Qatar, playing in traditional maroon, exhibited quality defending in the first five minutes thanks to Al Barik who shadowed feared Syrian striker Muhtadi near the Al Annabi box, clearing a couple of threatening moves.
Syria, sporting all-white, however sustained pressure on Qatar with long balls but the hosts stood firm with slick defending in the first six minutes.
In the seventh minute, Qatar's star striker Akram Afif dodged past three markers but his lob pass was poorly executed by Abdullah Abdulsalam who could not control the shot from the edge of the box.
Moments later, the referee slapped Syria's Moumen Naji with a yellow for needless rough tackle on Qatar's Ahmed Muhammed near the centreline.
In the 20th minute, hosts Qatar suffered a blow when influential captain Ahmed Moein hit the turf following a rough tackle. Qatar coach Sanchez - who looked perturbed - brought in Salem Ali to replace the injured captain.
Assim Omer was immediately handed over the captain's armband by Sanchez as the home team battled for the elusive point in the day and night encounter.
Close to the half-hour mark, Qatar's Almoez Ali jumped high in the air to head a neat volley for Afif who completely misfired from the edge of the Syrian box.
Seconds later, just before the visitors won a corner kick, Syrian coach Hussein Afash brought in Muhamed Rabie in place of Ahmad Al Bashir.
In the 37th minute, Qatar took the lead in spectacular fashion.
In a reckless tackle, Syria's Mouhammed Almarmour brought down Qatar's Ali close to the visitor's box.
Malaysian referee Suhaizi bin Shukri quickly pointed to the spot for a direct free-kick and defender Al Barik produced a spectacular curling shot to send the ball into the Syrian net.
Syrian goalkeeper Muhammed Yazan produced a dive to his left but the ball sailed into the net as home fans went delirious with the opening goal of the match.
Close to the first-half whistle, Syria's Abdul Rahman Barakat had the space to run into the Qatar box but the striker handled the ball to waste a goal-scoring opportunity.
Syria launched the proceedings in the second half with a series of attacks on the home side but Qatar's backline of Bassam Al Rawi and Tarek Salman combined well to thwart the dangerous moves.
Seven minutes into the second half, Afif charged his way into the Syrian box and tapped a ball to Muhammed Al Sadi whose snap-header pushed the ball past the goalpost.
At the one-hour mark, Syria produced the equaliser. Unmarked Naji found Muhtadi inside the Qatari box with a curling ball. Muhtadi jumped high in the air and deflected the ball past Mohammed Albakari.
In an effort to tackle the momentum shift in Syria's favour in the first 20 minutes of the second half, Qatar midfield switched gears and retained ball possession successfully.
In the 78th minute, Syria's Barakat found Muhtadi inside the Qatar box with a cleaver pass but the tall striker's deflection from close range missed the Qatar goalpost narrowly.
With 10 minutes to go, Qatar stand-in captain Assim Omer was benched by coach Sanchez as Omer Ahmed walked in. Tameem Al Muhaza was handed over the captain's arm-band for the home team, the third skipper for the hosts.
The home team, however, managed to play out the remaining minutes to seal their China berth.
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