Saudis break through defensive Pakistan to advance in World Cup qualifying [Dawn]

Saudis break through defensive Pakistan to advance in World Cup qualifying [Dawn]

ISLAMABAD: For most parts of the game, Pakistan were camped in their own half, looking to keep out Saudi Arabia. But Roberto Mancini’s side found a way, breaking down the hosts’ defence three times for a 3-0 victory at Jinnah Stadium to advance into the third round of Asia’s 2026 World Cup qualifiers with a game to spare.

Feras Al-Buraikan scored twice, both his goals coming in the first half, before Musab Al Juwayr added a third to leave Pakistan without a point in Group ‘G’ heading into their last game against Tajikistan next week. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, top the group with 13 points from five games ahead of their clash against Jordan.

The top two in each of the nine qualification groups advance to the next phase in the quest for one of Asia’s eight guaranteed berths at the 48-team World Cup in Mexico, the United States and Canada.

Pakistan had vowed they had worked on improving their confidence and Stephen Constantine’s men showed good composure in the early stages despite the Saudis having plenty of the ball.

They kept the visitors out until Al-Buraikan got the opener in the 26th. A cross from Moteb Al-Harbi on the left found its way to Sultan Al Ghannam, who headed it into the box and Al-Buraikan scored with a brilliant piece of skill.

The 24-year-old Al Ahli striker took a touch with his right foot to toss it up and then swiweled to send a rifling shot with his left past goalkeeper Yousuf Butt.

It was a matter of time till the Saudis got their second and it arrived 14 minutes later with Al Ghannam the creator. The wing-back’s cross eluded every Pakistan defender, landing perfectly for Al-Buraikan to nod it in.

The second half continued in the same way and the Saudis got their third in the 67th to end the match as a contest. Abdul Rahman Ghareeb on the right found a willing runner in Al Juwayr to collect his square pass and the midfielder’s first-time shot from an acute angle found the back of the net.

South Korea progress

Saudi Arabia joined South Korea in qualifying for the final round of qualifying after their fellow Asian heavyweights trou­nced hosts Singapore 7-0 with Paris St Germain’s Lee Kang-in and Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min both scoring twice.

The win moved the Koreans onto 13 points from five games and guaranteed them first place in Group ‘C’ with one match remaining.

Lee gave the Koreans the lead in Singapore with a rising shot into the roof of Hassan Sunny’s goal in the ninth minute before Joo Min-kyu’s header doubled the advantage 11 minutes later.

Captain Son scored twice after the interval, either side of a second for Lee while Bae Jun-ho and Hwang Hee-chan were also on target in interim coach Kim Do-hoon’s first game in charge.

Next up for Son’s side on June 11 is a home game in Seoul against China, who need a point to clinch the second qualifying place after Branko Ivankovic’s side drew 1-1 at home to Thailand despite Fei Nanduo’s first-half penalty miss in Shenyang.

Supachok Sarachat had put the Thais ahead with a 20th minute header before naturalised Brazilian Fei Nanduo fired over the bar in 51st minute.

But debutant Behram Abduweli swept his effort past substitute goalkeeper Saranon Anuin with 11 minutes left as China stayed in second place, three points ahead of Thailand with one game remaining.

Indonesia would have guaranteed their progress from Group ‘F’ with a win against already qualified Iraq.

But they slumped to a 2-0 defeat in Jakarta, finishing the game with 10 men after Jordi Amat was red carded as Iraq made it five wins out of five.

Vietnam lie one point behind Indonesia in the fight for the second qualifying spot after a thrilling 3-2 win over the Philippines.

Kevin Ingreso thought he had rescued a draw for the Philippines when he made it 2-2 in the 89th minute in Hanoi.

But in the fifth minute of added time, Pham Tuan Hai bagged the winner to keep his side’s hopes alive of making the final round of qualifying.

Vietnam travel to Iraq, while Indonesia host the Philippines in their final group games on Tuesday.

Chhetri bows out

In Kolkata, India legend Sunil Chhetri fought back tears as he made his 151st and final appearance for his country.

Thousands cheered an emotional Chhetri as he was given a guard of honour on leaving the pitch, bringing to a close an international career which put him among the world’s all-time leading scorers.

Nearly 59,000 fans in Kolkata came to see their captain in an India shirt for the last time in a 0-0 draw against Kuwait — a remarkable turnout in a country where football comes a distant second to cricket in popularity.

The 39-year-old scored 94 goals over nearly two decades for India, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Iran’s retired Ali Daei and Lionel Messi in the all-time international scorers’ list.

Already-qualified Japan maintained their unblemished record in Group ‘B’ as Koki Ogawa scored twice in a 5-0 win in Yangon over Myanmar while Oman boosted their chances in Group D with a 3-0 victory over Taiwan.

Australia also remained perfect with a 2-0 win in Dhaka against Bangladesh in Group ‘I’ and Mehdi Taremi scored a hat-trick in Iran’s 4-2 success against hosts Hong Kong in Group ‘E’.

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2024

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