Oman emerged the eventual victors in Asia's qualifying play-off for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 as they downed Uzbekistan 2-0 on Thursday at Hanoi's My Dinh Stadium. The triumph, coupled with their opening 1-1 draw against Syria, saw the west Asians finish top in the three-way battle to earn a meeting against Senegal. The one-off play-off for an Olympic berth will take place on 23 April at the City of Coventry Stadium, a day ahead of the final draw.
Facing a must-win scenario going into the concluding match against the Uzbeks, even Oman's French coach Paul Le Guen placed the favourites tag on the opponents, who had dispatched Syria 2-1 in the opener. Although neither side carved out any early clear-cut chances, Oman broke the deadlock when Waleed Abdallah was tripped in the box on the quarter-hour mark. Skipper Hussain Al Hadhri duly converted the resultant spot kick to put his side in the ascendency.
And the Omanis doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time when Raed Ibrahim Saleh cut into the area from the flank before slotting past Uzbek keeper Victor Mochalov. Two goals down, the former Soviet republic threw everything forward hunting for the requisite two goals. However, having weathered the rivals' second-half onslaught and some late scares, including the dismissal of midfielder Eid Al Farsi on 74 minutes, Oman hung on to keep their London 2012 aspirations alive.
The play-off victory came as another major boost for Le Guen, who had also guided the senior national side through to Asia's final qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. "I am so proud of my players and it was a result we deserved," said the former Lyon and Cameroon mentor. "We played well in the first game but this match was more difficult for us as Uzbekistan are a good team. But we showed a superior state of mind and it was a great performance from us to win 2-0."
On-song Al Hadhri
Oman's qualifying campaign has seen the emergence of Al Hadhri, who has scored eight times en route to the Senegal showdown. A nimble player who can be deployed as either a forward or attacking midfielder, Al Hadhri has represented his country at senior level since 2009. However, it was his brilliant display during their Olympic campaign that has aroused attention from media and fans alike.
Al Hadhri opened his account in the first qualifying round against Tajikistan, completing a brace in their second-leg 3-1 win which saw them through 7-2 on aggregate. Heading into the second round against China PR as underdogs, Al Hadhri was on target three times over two legs as he almost single-handedly steered his side through.
After being on target in the 1-1 draw against Saudi Arabia in the third round closing game - a result which sealed their place in the continental play-off - the diminutive goal-getter went on to open the scoring against Syria with a penalty.
"I would like to thank God for this great victory," said the 21-year-old after defeating Uzbekistan. "We missed good chances against Syria in the opener but we made up for it as we scored two goals against the Uzbeks to move a step closer to London 2012. Now we need to focus on the Senegal game."
Uzbekistan lick wounds
The Oman defeat proved to be a second severe blow for Vadim Abramov's Uzbekistan, who threw away a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 at home against United Arab Emirates in the previous round's final game, costing them an automatic Olympic berth. The experienced Abramov lamented the UAE defeat in Tashkent as being a psychological blow to his squad.
"We made so many mistakes although we created plenty of chances before we conceded the penalty," he said. "It was not a lucky day for us but this (loss) didn't come from today. It came from our loss to UAE in Tashkent because there were players that still couldn't get the near-miss out of their heads."