Abdulkareem Al Ali came off the bench to net the only goal as Qatar booked their place in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup with a 1-0 win over Malaysia at the Shah Alam Stadium on Tuesday.
The Qataris only needed a draw to qualify for Australia but Al Ali turned in Khalfan Ibrahim’s cross in the 65th minute to ensure that Fahad Thani’s side confirmed their progress from Group D with something to spare.
“The result was as expected,” said Qatar coach Fahad Thani, whose team remained within a point of group leaders Bahrain. “We came here with the intent to win and we are happy that we achieved that goal.
"Now we will focus on taking the top spot in the group with a win against Bahrain.”
The result also dented Malaysia’s hopes of progressing to the finals as the best third-placed team as they remained on four points, two behind Iraq from Group C.
Needing a win to remain in the hunt for second place in the group, Malaysia threatened after 10 minutes when Safee Sali brought the ball down in the box but the striker was quickly closed down by the Qatari defence before he could muster an attempt on goal.
Qatar responded five minutes later when Abdel Karim Hassan sent a cross into the Malaysian box which was meant for the incoming Hasan Al Haydos only for goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat to punch clear.
Malaysia came closest to finding the net in the first half when Safee just failed to connect with Norshahrul’s delivery into the box in the 36th minute while Mahalli Jasuli failed to turn Amri Yahyah’s cornet onto the target just before half-time.
Al Ali came on at the break for Ali Afif and Qatar offered the greater threat in the second half before the substitute made his mark with 25 minutes left.
He was left unattended as Ibrahim drew the attention of the Malaysian defence towards him on the right flank before lobbing the ball into the box for Al Ali to tuck it away.
With time running out, the hosts piled on the pressure and Muhammad Nazmi was presented with an opportunity five minutes from time but the midfielder drilled his low shot wide of the right post.
The final whistle signalled Qatar’s progression to the Asian Cup finals for the ninth time in 10 attempts while Malaysia must beat Yemen in March and hope for help elsewhere in order to earn a spot in Australia.
“We came into the match with a positive mindset and I believed we could have won today,” said Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal. “Looking at the whole situation, I thought we could have come out with a draw but this is football and we have to accept the result.
“Now we have to forget about this result and focus on our last encounter against Yemen. We should not put our heads down as long as there is a chance to qualify, whether by mathematical calculation or luck, we should try our very best to swing the tide in our favour.” -AFC-