Sharjah: Lebanon carved out a gutsy 4-1 win against DPR Korea, but it was a way too late as the Cedars missed out by a whisker for their first-ever spot in the next round of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup at the Sharjah Stadium, late on Thursday.
With Lebanon the more likely candidate in a position to advance as the fourth and final candidate of third-best teams, it was the North Koreans who silenced the 3,000-odd Lebanese fans with a Pak Kwang Ryong opener in the ninth minute. But, Lebanon rallied around and found an equalizer in the 27th minute after George Alexander Melki justifying captain Hassan Maatouk’s hard work on the left by placing home from inside the six-yard box.
The Lebanese were all over the DPR Korea territory after that equalizer, and despite having a major part of the possession, they failed to break through.
The Cedars continued with the pressure in the second half, and were finally rewarded in the 65th minute following Hilal Al Helwe’s beautifully timed first-time connection on a cross from Mohammad Haider. Skipper Hassan Maatouk made it 3-1 from the spot on the 80th minute, and Al Helwe volleyed home for his brace deep into injury period.
With qualifiers Qatar getting past Saudi Arabia 2-0 to win the group in Abu Dhabi, the win came a bit too late as it meant Lebanon finished with three points but an inferior goal difference of minus 1, and along with it a denial to advance ahead of Vietnam, who clinched the fourth and final spot with three points and a minus one goal difference.
With Bahrain [four points] and Kyrgzstan [3 points] booking the first two spots, it was Gulf champions Oman [3 points] taking the third spot with a 2-1 win over Turkmenistan leaving Lebanon to contest against Vietnam’s three points and minus one goal difference. Lebanon won the war, but fell short in the battle as they got the required three points and their first-ever Asian Cup triumph, but ended with a goal difference of minus one.
The teams will now take a much-deserved two-day break with the Round of 16 matches slated from January 20 to 22.
Lebanon x DPR Korea 4-1