Fri, Nov 17, 2006 - Page 23 News List

Bahrain and Uzbekistan snatch Asian Cup places

AFP , SINGAPORE

After nine months and 65 matches the line-up for next year's Asian Cup finals is complete, with Bahrain and Uzbekistan filling the final two slots available.

Bahrain, surprise semi-finalists in 2004, upset the odds to beat Kuwait 2-1 in Manama to ensure their presence at the finals to be joint-hosted by Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam in July.

Coach Hans-Peter Breigel considered it a richly deserved victory.

"The players played well and we controlled the game in the first half and scored two goals after a good performance from our midfielders," he said.

Captain Talal Yousef scored the first goal from the penalty spot in the 35th minute with striker Salman Isa doubling the host's lead 10 minutes later. Kuwait's substitute striker Faraj Laheeb pulled one back in the 70th minute.

Uzbekistan secured their passage with a 2-0 win over Qatar, but coach Valeri Nepomniatchi called it quits.

According to the Asian Football Confederation, the Russian would have gone whether they qualified or not.

Strikes by Leonid Koshelev and IIyas Zeitullaev ensured they finished second in Group F to Qatar.

Hong Kong coach Lai Sun-cheung also resigned after his side failed to make the finals despite a 2-0 win over Bangladesh.

"Sometimes I feel sad that I am leaving but I am still happy with how I have done here," Lai said.

Another coach under pressure is China's Zhu Guanghu who was barracked by fans after his team struggled to a 1-1 draw at home against Iraq.

Despite China, the losing finalists in 2004, qualifying, it has been an indifferent campaign.

"I understand the fans' disappointment because they hoped to see a stronger national team. They are correct and we still have a lot to improve," said Zhu.

Defending champions Japan, without their European-based contingent, had a better night, recording a 3-1 win over Saudi Arabia, although coach Ivica Osim knows he still has work on his hands.

"I wish our players could have shown more creativity in their play. We became erratic, which we have to fix," he said.

"We had some trouble with our physical condition as the second half wore on. That couldn't be helped in a way, because our players have had a long season," Osim said.

South Korea travelled to Iran for a match both teams used as a warm-up for the Asian Games in Doha next month. Iran emerged 2-0 winners, and coach Amir Ghalenoei was jubilant.

"Honestly speaking the level of the Korean game is one of the highest Asia," he said. "They are equipped with everything that is needed for professional football but we were the better team on the pitch and prevailed over the visitors."

In other games, Syria defeated Taiwan 3-0, Jordan beat Oman 3-0, and United Arab Emirates came out on top of a five goal feast against Pakistan 3-2.

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