Dubai: Kyrgyzstan secured a 3-1 win against the Philippines at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai’s Rashid Stadium on Wednesday and headed back to the hotel at around 9pm. After dinner, and as per coach Alexander Krestinin’s orders, the Kyrgyz players were in bed by 10.30pm, content with victory but thinking they were heading home after missing out on a spot as one of the best third-placed teams.
The win was Kyrgyzstan’s first-ever at the continental competition, with striker Vitalij Lux bagging all three goals to chart the Central Asian nation’s own bit of history. However, after the Group D matches were played out later in the night and Vietnam had secured full points with a 2-0 result against Yemen, it dawned on the Kyrgyz coach that his team had actually qualified and will play the UAE in the round of 16.
Krestinin could not contain his joy. Excited at this double deal in the UAE, the coach went rushing to the rooms of his players, knocking at their doors and waking them up to give them this second bit of good news. A true team effort deserved a true team celebration.
While Krestinin and his players rejoice in such a historic moment, two teams were left shattered after failing to make it through to the next stages on the merit of their performances — India and Lebanon. India’s 4-1 thrashing of Thailand gave them a lot of hope with a single point needed from their next two matches against the UAE and Bahrain. But the Blue Tigers lost both to finish with three points and a goal difference of zero — the same as that of Oman (Group F) and the Kyrgyz Republic.
It was an even more devastating experience for Lebanon as they missed a place by the smallest of margins despite their 4-1 thrashing of North Korea in the final group match in Sharjah, late on Thursday. One more goal — and the Cedars must have missed at least five sure chances — and they could have finished better than Vietnam’s three points and minus one goal difference.
“We were out of the competition at the end of our first game [2-0 loss to Qatar],” Lebanon’s coach Miodrag Radulovic said. “We’ve missed fulfilling a historic moment in Lebanese football, but I am proud of my players. I feel sorry for them as all of them are crying. Today [against North Korea] we made history with our first-ever win. This team has a future though as they have done a lot of positive things for the future of Lebanese football.”