Asian Cup debutants Tajikistan qualified for the last 16 in dramatic fashion when they came from behind to snatch a last-gasp 2-1 victory over 10-man Lebanon in Group A after scoring their first ever goals in the tournament on Monday.
The result moved Tajikistan up to second place on four points, behind group toppers Qatar who beat China 1-0 in the other game.
Tajikistan had two goals ruled out for offside by VAR but after Lebanon had Kassem El-Zein sent off in the second half, late strikes from skipper Parvizdzhon Umarbayev and Nuriddin
Khamrokulov gave Petar Segrt’s side a memorable win.
But Lebanon were reduced to 10 men in the 56th minute when El-Zein was sent off after a stamp for which he initially received a yellow card before VAR asked the referee to take a second look and it was upgraded to red.
Tajikistan thought they had scored their first goal at the Asian Cup — twice — but a deflected strike from Shervoni Mabatshoev and a goal from Alisher Dzhalilov were both ruled out by VAR for offside in the buildup.
But Tajikistan did not let up and scored the equaliser through Umarbayev as the skipper found the top corner from a free kick in the 80th minute.
With 16 minutes added on for stoppages, the winner came from Khamrokulov whose effort looped over goalkeeper Mostafa Matar to seal a memorable win for Tajikistan.
“I knew that we must wait for the moment. I was quiet and I said to everybody, ‘Wait for the chances. We will get our chances’,” added Segrt, who broke his glasses in the celebrations that followed.
“I see they got tired but we must continue to play our attacking football… Play for your life. And this is what I want from my players.
“It is now the second time that they kill (broke) my glasses, these crazy players. Every time when they score, they jump on me, I don’t know why. I must teach them in training, they have too much energy.”
Qatar, who had already won the group and sealed a last-16 place, rested key players but still beat China 1-0 after captain Hassan Al-Haydos scored the winner with a fantastic volley from a corner after 66 minutes to give the hosts maximum points.
Qatar coach Marquez Lopez described Haydos’s rocket as the ‘best goal in the tournament’ and the veteran skipper said he was proud of how the second string players stepped up.
“Twenty-six players have played in the three matches and given a spectacular performance. The three points were very important for our morale,” Haydos said.
“We have a game in the last 16, we have finished with full marks and now we will focus on the next round.”