Resilient Qatar and Oman receive boost
© AFP

Some fine performances at the end of the third round of Asian qualifying matches for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ have seen both Qatar and Oman make impressive progress in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.

In Group E, Qatar managed to secure a 2-2 draw at Iran's imposing Azadi stadium , while Oman beat Group D opponents Thailand 2-0 in Muscat, giving both sides second place finishes and sending them through to the fourth and final round of qualifiers.

Their subsequent rise up the ranking will provide encouragement for both teams, although they will need to build further on their results if they are to qualify for the FIFA World Cup for the first time in their respective histories.

Qatar impress at Iranian stronghold
Qatar went into their final Group E match in Tehran, knowing they needed at least a point if they were to accompany table-toppers Iran to the fourth round of Asian qualifiers. Their task became even harder when the Gulf side twice fell behind twice in the course of the match. Debutant Ashkan Dejagah did the damage in the fourth minute, and again on the 50-minute mark.

The Qataris, however, displayed impressive resilience to earn a share of the spoils. Ibrahim Khalfan slotted in a ninth minute penalty, before Kasola Mohammed scored just five minutes from time to secure the all-important point which secured their progression. Given the 37-place difference between Iran and Qatar in the Ranking, this result was enough to propel the Gulf side eight places up the table, to 88 in the world and ninth in Asia.

Oman are going to make a big statement in the fourth round.
Ali Al-Habsi, Oman goalkeeper.

No one was more delighted than Qatar’s Brazilian coach Paulo Autuori, who assumed control in Tehran for his first official match, just days after taking the reins from fellow countryman Sebastiao Lazaroni.  “It was just reward for the effort the players put in against Iran,” said the 55-year-old. “They never gave up and the second equaliser was the result of their unstinting efforts throughout the match.”

Qatar may be some way off their highest ever ranking of 51, which they reached in August 1993, but the excellent start to Autuori’s tenure suggests that this long-standing record could yet be emulated.

Drama-charged passage
When the draw for the third round of Asian qualifiers pitted Oman against the likes of Australia, Saudi Arabia and Thailand, the side’s chances of going through to the final round looked slim indeed. Nor were their initial results in Group D particularly auspicious, with a scoreless draw against Saudi Arabia followed by successive 3-0 defeats against Thailand and Australia.

A 1-0 victory over Australia in Muscat and another draw against Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia left French coach Paul Le Guen and his team needing to win their last group match against Thailand and hope that Saudi Arabia would be unable to beat Australia.

At half-time, Oman were facing the end of their Brazil 2014 dream, their 1-0 advantage over Thailand cancelled out by Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 lead over Australia. But there was another twist to come. Australia turned on the style in the second half to win 4-2, while Oman kept their composure to see off the Thais 2-0. This win, together with a 5-1 rout of India on 23 February, lifted Oman three places to 92 in the overall rankings and to 11 in Asia.

Oman goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, who plays club football for English Premier League outfit Wigan, had this to say about his side’s qualification for the fourth round: “It was well deserved. We managed to steal a ticket to the fourth round and make all the fans that supported us so happy. Oman are going to make a big statement in the fourth round,” Al Habsi added: “We’re going to prove our worth.”