Lowly Oman beat Iraq 1-0 today to rise to second in their AFC qualifying group and raise hopes of reaching the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time in their history.
Ismail Al-Ajmi's header in first-half stoppage time was the difference at a sun-baked Sultan Qaboos stadium in Muscat as the hosts leapfrogged Australia and Jordan into the second spot in Group B. Oman now lie behind Japan, who qualified through their 1-1 draw with Australia earlier, and two points ahead of the Socceroos who have a game in hand. Oman's final game is away against Jordan on 18 June.
Quality was hard to come by in a scrappy first half-hour, but after both teams paused for a drinks break Oman forward Abdul Aziz tried an ambitious bicycle-kick which sailed narrowly wide. A high ball found Iraq's Ala'a Abdulzehra in the box but he was denied by some quick defensive work from Oman's Raed Saleh. Iraqi midfielder Eid Al-Farsi also went close with a shot from distance.
The game looked headed for 0-0 at the break but in the fourth minute of first-half injury time, Ismail's header from a corner bounced off Humam Tareq Faraj on the line and into the Iraqi goal. Ismail nearly doubled Oman's lead on 68 minutes but he drew an excellent save from Iraq's Noor Sabri Abbas after powering through one on one.
Abdul Aziz had two solid chances to extend the lead but he pulled both shots across goal when set free from identical positions on the left. Oman kept up their assault on the Iraqi goal and when the referee blew full time, they celebrated as worthy winners in front of an exuberant crowd which will now dream of Brazil 2014.