West Asia trio win to book places at Asian Cup
By Patrick Johnston
(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates capped a good night for West Asia when the Gulf trio became the first sides to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup after each scored home wins on Friday.
The UAE swept past Hong Kong 4-0 to make it four wins from four in Group E and secure one of the top two places in the pool, while three-times champions Saudi Arabia also have 12 points after they beat 2007 winners Iraq 2-1 in Group C.
Bahrain edged Malaysia 1-0 after a late goal by Ismaeel Abdulatif secured the points in their Group D clash as the trio all bounced back following the disappointment of dismal 2014 World Cup qualifying campaigns.
They were three of the six qualifying wins for West Asian Football Federation members on Friday with Iran, Qatar and Syria also proving victorious, while all five Southeast Asian sides lost to leave the region looking unlikely to provide one of the 16 finalists.
Australia as hosts, Japan as holders, and South Korea after finishing third last time, have already qualified for the showpiece, with North Korea also securing a spot courtesy of winning the AFC's Challenge Cup for developing soccer nations.
Bahrain, hampered by a number of injuries, were the first to join the quartet at the finals after they overcame a stubborn Malaysia side who had held them 1-1 in Kuala Lumpur last month.
Abdulatif was the match-winner, taking a pass from Abdulla Al Hazaa over his shoulder in the 72nd minute before turning in the area and firing a right foot shot past Khairul Fahmi in the Malaysian goal.
Bahrain, who made the match free for fans, are top of the group on 10 points from four games, one ahead of Qatar who left Yemen still looking for their first point after a 4-1 win. Qatar can also qualify if they avoid defeat in Malaysia on Tuesday. Continued...