Dubai: As expected, Asian power-horses Saudi Arabia and Qatar occupy the top two spots in Group E, leaving Lebanon and North Korea fighting it out for third place and a chance of making it to the round of 16 at Sharjah Stadium at 8pm on Thursday.
Both go into their final Group E match knowing that only a win and the three points will afford them the opportunity of advancing as one of the four third-best teams. As of now, Bahrain have already taken one of these four spots after finishing with four points in Group A, while Palestine also look likely to advance from Group B.
That has the likelihood of only two vacancies up for grabs between the eight remaining teams, trimming down Lebanon’s and North Korea’s chances further. If history is considered, then the last time these two teams met ended with a 5-0 drubbing of the Koreans during the qualifiers for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers at Sports City Stadium in Beirut on October 10, 2017.
But that will count for nothing when there is so much on the line for both in Thursday’s crucial encounter. With a Fifa World Ranking of 81, Miodrag Radulovic’s Lebanon have been going through a sort of footballing renaissance in the past few years. Despite not marking their third entry at the AFC Asian Cup with a win so far, the Lebanese will be relying on the guile of Hassan Mahtouk as they eye a victory and along with it a debut in the knockout stages.
This is the fifth appearance for North Korea in this competition and their best has been a fourth place in the 1980 tournament held in Kuwait. However, the Kim Yong-jun-coached team have been one of the whipping boys this time after letting in 10 goals in two matches — 4-0 against Saudi Arabia and 6-0 against Qatar.