Oman edge Palestine to emerge group toppers

MUSCAT, March 27 –
Khalid Khalifa al Hajri netted the all-important goal of the match as Oman edged a fighting Palestine 1-0 in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifier at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Muscat on Tuesday.
The goal in the 88th minute of the match also sealed the top spot for Oman in the Group D of the qualifiers.
Though Oman and Palestine ended with 15 points each after their five matches, Oman leapfrogged Palestine on a better goal average as they have scored an away goal in Palestine.
Both the countries had already booked their places in the Asian Cup finals in the UAE in 2019.
In the final minutes, Palestine pressed hard for an equaliser knowing a draw would make them the group toppers, but Gulf Cup hero Fayez al Rushaidi rose to the occasion to deny the visitors.
Playing their first major match after the Gulf Cup triumph in Kuwait, Oman looked rusty as the physically strong Palestine players gave nothing away in the Group D match in Muscat.
In the 42nd minute Jameel al Yahmadi’s brilliant solo run inside the penalty box of Palestine spelled danger for the visitors. Jameel’s side shot was put out of goal by the Palestine defender.
The second half started with Oman weaving further attacks.
In the first minute after the break, Oman captain Ahmed Mubarak Kanu’s firm shot was kept away for a corner by Palestine goalkeeper Rami Hamada.
In the 48th minute, forward Jameel al Yahmadi could not reach for a long through pass from the midfield.
Palestine also joined the thick of action when striker Shadi Shaban unleashed a powerful shot from outside the box which went over the bar in the 54th minute.
Oman earned back to back corner kicks in the 57th minute but it was wasted with poor kicks.
Oman’s Dutch coach Pim Verbeek tested Said Salim al Ruzaiqi in the second half.
Jameel al Yahmadi, who had a very active game, hit a strong grounder in the 60th minute but Palestine goalkeeper came to the rescue.
Oman’s Gulf Cup hero Fayez al Rushaidi was hardly tested in the first half.
In the 65th minute, Mohsin Jawhar al Khaldi put a ball inside from a freekick on the left flank of Palestine box, but the header from the Omani player ballooned over the bar.
In the 68th minute, Khalid Khalifa al Hajri received a through pass from the midfield to advance but was checked out of danger by a vigilant Palestine defender.
Palestine’s Bolivian coach Julio Cesar Baldiveiso made a change in the 71st minute, when he brought in Mahmoud Dhadha instead of Shadi Shaban.
In the 73rd minute, Saad Suhail hit a powerful shot from near the Palestine box after a corner but it sailed over the bar.
In the 78th minute, Verbeek replaced Raed Saleh, who plays for Valletta club of Malta, with veteran striker Abdulaziz al Muqbali.
Oman earned a corner in the 80th minute. The ball was kept out of danger by Palestine defence in between a series of desperate attempts from the Omani players for a goal.
Next, Abdulaziz al Muqbali had his first touch on the ball but the shot was well blocked by a Palestine defender.
Palestine made a substitution in the 85th minute.
Palestine, who had 15 points before the match, remained on the same after the defeat.
Oman ended the qualifying campaign with 15 points from their five matches. Their only loss came against Palestine 2-1 in their away match in Palestine city of Al Rami back in June 2017.