DOHA: Qatar became the first team to book a place in the AFC Asian Cup knockout stage after a 1-0 win against Tajikistan in a Group A encounter at Al Bayt Stadium.

The defending champions’ second win, coupled with China PR and Lebanon playing to a goalless draw earlier in the day, mean Qatar are assured of finishing as the Group A winners.

Tajikistan didn’t waste time in seizing the initiative, with Rustam Soirov’s shot from an acute angle forcing Qatar goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham into making an early save.

Qatar, however, began to assert their authority with Ahmed Fathy’s cross in the 17th minute finding Tarek Salman but the centre-back failed to get his header on target.

Just 30 seconds later, Qatar took the lead when Almoez Ali won the ball and released Akram Afif, whose burst of speed took him beyond Vahdat Hanonov with the forward dinking the ball over Yatimov for his third goal of the tournament.

Qatar thought they had earned a spot-kick in the 33rd minute after an altercation between Ali and Manuchehr Safarov but after a VAR check, referee Kimura Hiroyuki Kimura awarded Tajikistan a free-kick.
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The Maroons had another opportunity just before the break when Yatimov spilled Afif’s shot but defender Zoir Dzhuraboev produced an outstanding goalline clearance to deny Ali who had pounced on the rebound.

Qatar survived a scare three minutes into the second half, a foot race between Alisher Dzhalilov and custodian Meshaal Barsham saw the Tajikistan forward getting to the ball first but with the goalmouth gaping, a heavy first touch took the chance away.

Qatar spurned two chances just before the hour mark, Ahmed Al Ganehi blazing his shot over from just inside the box and Ali then denied by Yatimov’s big frame.

Tajikistan’s hopes were undone in the 81st minute when Amadoni Kamalov had his yellow card changed to a red after a VAR check determined he had kicked out at Al Ganehi after he was bundled to the ground by Mohammed Al Bayati.

Qatar will look for their 10th consecutive AFC Asian Cup win when they face China PR while Tajikistan will have to defeat Lebanon on Monday if they are to stand a chance of advancing.