Asian Cup

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Victorious Qatar returns to Doha to a ‘rapturous’ welcome

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) The Asian Football Confederation said Sunday that Qatar’s victorious Asian Cup football team returned home to Doha to a “rapturous welcome” and was greeted by the country’s ruler and hundreds of thousands of fans.

The AFC said Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani met the players to begin a second straight night of celebrations in Doha after Qatar beat Japan 3-1 in the Asian Cup final on Friday.

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“I am very happy to see the people celebrating with us, we realize how big what we did is,” said coach Felix Sanchez. “When you win a trophy like that you feel very proud, to see that the hard work sometimes gives you the reward.”

The AFC statement said players and staff were mobbed by fans, friends and family before getting on a specially decorated open-top bus to begin the trip into Doha from the airport.

“I am proud to make these people happy,” said Ali Almoez, the tournament’s top scorer. “I am proud of this thing and all the players are. For 40 years Qatari people did not celebrate, now we will celebrate for the next four years and not stop.”

Victory will give Qatar renewed hope of being able to compete against the world’s best teams when it qualifies for the first time for the World Cup – as hosts – in 2022.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Asian Cup: Lippi’s China comes from behind; Vietnam advances (video)

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AL AIN, United Arab Emirates (AP) China fought back from a goal down to beat Thailand 2-1 in the round of 16 of the Asian Cup on Sunday and avoid a potentially embarrassing upset.

Supachai Jaided put Thailand ahead in the 31st minute, turning and shooting despite being surrounded by three defenders, before Chinese striker Wu Lei missed a string of good chances.

World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi brought veteran Xiao Zhi off the bench in the 64th and three minutes later he scored the equalizer, knocking the ball into the net on the rebound from his own saved header.

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Gao Lin quickly added a second from the penalty spot after he was fouled by Chalermpong Kerdkaew. China goalkeeper Yun Junling averted extra time when he stopped Chalermpong’s fierce shot in stoppage time.

China will face either Iran or Oman in Thursday’s quarterfinal as it bids to end a 15-year absence from Asian Cup semifinals. China’s national team has often fallen short despite the country’s long-term ambitions of becoming a soccer superpower and the wealth of Chinese clubs. China has only qualified for the World Cup once, losing all its games in 2002, and lost its only Asian Cup final to Japan two years later.

Thailand, which got out of the Asian Cup group stage for the first time in 47 years, had caretaker coach Sirisak Yodyadthai in charge after firing Milovan Rajevac following its opening group-stage 4-1 loss to India.

Earlier Sunday, Vietnam surprised an on-form Jordan team on penalties to reach the quarterfinals.

The 20-year-old midfielder Bui Tien Dung stroked the winning penalty into the bottom-left corner as Vietnam won the shootout 4-2 after the game finished 1-1 following extra time. Vietnam took the initiative in the shootout after Jordan’s Baha Seif hammered a penalty onto the crossbar and Vietnam’s Russian-born keeper Dang Van Lam leapt to palm away Ahmed Salah’s shot.

Despite being nine places higher in the world rankings, Vietnam was something of an underdog given it had only once before played an Asian Cup knockout game and Jordan had beaten reigning champion Australia in the group stage.

Jordan took the lead in the 39th minute after referee Alireza Faghani gave a rare indirect free kick inside the penalty area for a high foot. After the slightest of touches from a teammate, Baha Abdel-Rahman blasted the ball into the net from a tight angle.

After struggling to create chances in the first half, Vietnam was more incisive after halftime. In the 51st, Nguyen Cong Phuong flicked teammate Nguyen Trong Hoang’s cross high into the net. Shortly after, a Jordan defensive blunder nearly gave Vietnam the lead but Anas Bani Yaseen rushed back to clear the ball off the line.

Vietnam will play either Japan or Saudi Arabia in its first Asian Cup quarterfinal since 2007.

It’s the first time the Asian Cup has had a last-16 round after expanding to 24 teams.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Mabil: Memorable celebration was to support mental health

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It turns out there was a bit more to say about the outstanding goal from Australia’s Awer Mabil at the Asian Cup, thanks to his celebration.

Mabil held his hand over his mouth and two fingers in front of his forehead after scoring the left-footed rip, and said his idea is to help spread the word that it’s okay to talk about mental health issues.

[ MORE: 2019 Asian Cup news ]

The two fingers represent peace to the mind, while Mabil says the covering of the mouth is a plea to speak freely. From the BBC:

“The reason [people] go quiet is mainly because they don’t know what the reaction is going to be from the mainstream society,” he said.

“A lot of people worry about what others think but I honestly think you should not be afraid of what others think. Those people who are afraid to open up, this is for them, for them to open up and make them feel this is okay.”

Mabil, 23, plays for Danish power Midtjylland, where has five goals and nine assists this season.

The BBC notes that Mabil was born at a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to Australia as a child as part of a resettlement program.

Asian Cup: Mabil scores beauty as Australia goes through (video)

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AL AIN, United Arab Emirates (AP) Australia is through to the knockout rounds at the Asian Cup, although the defending champion hasn’t made it look pretty.

Australia needed a stoppage-time goal from Tom Rogic to beat Syria 3-2 on Tuesday after twice letting leads slip. A draw would have been enough to finish runner-up in Group B behind Jordan – which beat Australia 1-0 in their opening game – and the title holder was below its best in eliminating a resolute Syrian team, which finished last in the group.

[ MORE: 2019 Asian Cup news ]

Palestine’s 0-0 draw with Jordan in Abu Dhabi means it can still reach the round of 16 as one of the four best third-place teams in the new 24-team format.

The Palestinians have two points and will go through if enough low-ranked teams in other groups draw their games on Wednesday and Thursday.

Australia will play the Group F runner-up – 2011 champion Japan or Uzbekistan – next Monday in the first knockout round.

If Australia’s overall play was unconvincing for a team which tested eventual champion France in a 2018 World Cup group game, two of its goals were impressive.

Awer Mabil opened the scoring in the 41st minute with a curling left-foot shot from just outside the penalty area. Rogic decided the game with a powerful left-foot shot from the same distance.

In between, Chris Ikonomidi’s poked shot past Syrian goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma was judged to have crossed the line before Omro Al Midani’s attempted clearance. Without goal-line technology, or video review before the quarterfinal stage, the assistant at the touchline and fifth official beside the goal helped make the decision.

Syria first leveled though Omar Khrbin in the 43rd, and then Omar Al Soma’s 80th-minute penalty kick after he fell to the ground as a cross was swung in from the right flank.

Jordan tops the group with seven points, and next plays a third-place team – Bahrain, Vietnam or Yemen.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Asian Cup wrap: UAE tops India, Jordan stays perfect (video)

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United Arab Emirates got a much-needed win as the Asian Cup began its second round of group stage games on Thursday.

Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Mabkhout scored for the hosts in a 2-0 defeat of India at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

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The win was necessary after a surprising draw with Bhutan to start Group A play. UAE now leads the group by a point heading into the final match day, when it faces Thailand.

The War Elephants beat Bhutan and join India on three points. Chanathip Songkrasin scored Thailand’s goal.

In Group B, Jordan clinched a spot in the knockout rounds with a 2-0 defeat of Syria. Palestine meets Australia on Friday, and the winner will be in pole position to join Jordan in the next round. Syria has one point, while the Socceroos are pointless after falling to Jordan on Jan. 6