DOHA: Saudi Arabia drew 0-0 with Thailand on Thursday to win Group F of the Asian Cup. It was a game that may have been low on goals but was high on quality, excitement and entertainment. Each team had two goals ruled out for offside while the Green Falcons also missed an early penalty.
In the end, however, both left Education City Stadium satisfied as Saudi Arabia have seven points from the three games, two ahead of Thailand with Oman and Kyrgyzstan both exiting the tournament after their 1-1 draw.
For Roberto Mancini, the next test comes against South Korea on Tuesday but first, the Italian will take positives from the game. Both teams may already have been sure of a place in the knockout stage but there was no shortage of desire to finish the group stage with a victory.
It all started in the eighth minute as Salem Al-Dawsari, who looked back to his lively best after a slow start to the tournament, went down in the area under a challenge from goalkeeper Saranon Anuin. After a lengthy VAR review — there seems to be no other kind in this otherwise excellent tournament — a penalty was given and the captain handed the ball to young forward Abdullah Radif.
It was a great opportunity for the Al-Hilal star to score just his second international goal, but Saranon was equal to the challenge and made the save on his international debut.
Soon after he was flying through the air to deny a shot from Al-Dawsari and then Abdulrahman Ghareeb, getting the start his first two substitute appearances had warranted.
After 15 minutes, it was Thailand’s turn to go close. Teerasak Poeiphimai met Jaroensak Wonggorn’s right-sided cross with a smart low header at the near post that beat Raghed Najjar but it was ruled out for offside.
Shortly after, Radif did get the ball in the net, turning in Hassan Kadesh’s low cross from close range but the flag was quickly raised.
Nine minutes before the break, it was Thailand’s turn to think they had taken the lead. Worachit Kanitsribumphen swept home from inside the area but the midfielder had strayed just millimeters offside.
It started again 11 minutes after the break as Ghareeb sprinted clear of the Thai defense, to finish smoothly past the goalkeeper. The winger had made his run from the halfway line and the fans in the stadium let their displeasure known after his big toe was adjudged to have been in the Thai half.
They were, however, applauding the introduction of Talal Hajji, at 16 the youngest ever Asian Cup player; just after the hour and within minutes he was heading a Mohammed Al-Breik cross just over. Nasser Al-Dawsari came even closer in the 73rd minute, pulling his shot from the left side of the area just inches wide.
While Saudi Arabia deserved the win and maximum points, defeat would have been harsh on a Thai team that worked incredibly hard for the point. Hajji came close in the last minute, his header bringing a save from his fellow debutant in the Thai goal.
There was to be no way through and Saudi Arabia look forward to a huge clash against the stars of South Korea.