Abu Dhabi: Almoez Ali’s rich vein of form at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 continued on Thursday as he scored twice to help Qatar beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 and claim top spot in Group E. The prolific 22-year-old struck either side of the break to take his tournament tally to seven on a night when Qatar registered a third successive group stage victory to head into the Round of 16 with momentum galore and leave their opponents occupying second place.
Qatar, quarter-finalists in 2000 and 2011, are now scheduled to meet Iraq in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, while three-time champions Saudi Arabia will face Japan in Sharjah a day earlier.
Both sides made a slow start to proceedings at the Zayed Sports City Stadium, with Mohammed Al Owais’ smart parry from Qatar midfielder Boualem Khoukhi’s fierce drive on 16 minutes the first genuine threat to either goal.
Hussain Al Moqahwi then blazed over the bar for Saudi Arabia following Yahya Al Shehri’s probing run and cross, before Fahad Al Muwallad struck an upright with Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb beaten.
Qatar were not to be denied however, and after Hasan Al Haydos had seen his 42nd minute penalty saved by Al Owais, hesitant Saudi defending allowed Abdelaziz Hatim’s through ball to find Almoez Ali who converted with ease to open the scoring on the stroke of half-time.
Within five minutes of the restart Hatan Bahbri forced Al Sheeb into a smart save and, as Saudi Arabia continued to search for an equaliser, the impressive Bahbri fizzed an effort from 15 yards narrowly over the bar on 73 minutes.
By way of contrast to Saudi Arabia’s frequent forays into the final third, Qatar’s opportunities were limited in the second period, although they were to extend their lead with 10 minutes remaining, Almoez Ali leaping highest to thump home a header from Hatim’s pinpoint corner.
It proved to be the final genuine goalmouth action, as Qatar, who once again kept a clean sheet, held on to seal another three points and further underline their title potential.