DOHA: Debutants Tajikistan produced a stirring comeback to prolong their journey at the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™, defeating Lebanon 2-1 to finish second in Group A.

The Central Asian side showed great fight and spirit as Nuriddin Khamrokulov’s goal in the second minute of stoppage time saw them finish on four points, two better than China PR with Lebanon concluding their campaign on one point.

With Amadoni Kamalov not available due to suspension, Petar Segrt introduced Shervoni Mabatshoev into the starting line-up with the FC Istiklol midfielder coming into the match having only played eight minutes in the tournament.

Backed by a sizable Lebanon-supporting crowd in the stands, Miodrag Radulovic’s side had two openings early on but attempts by Hussein Zein and Hassan Maatouk were well covered by Tajikistan custodian Rustam Yatimov.

Tajikistan responded with their first attempt on target in the 24th minute when Zoir Dzhuraboev climbed high at the back post to get his head on to Akhtam Nazarov’s cross, however, it was a tame effort which Mostafa Matar easily dealt with.

The Central Asian side nearly broke the deadlock seven minutes later, with Matar out of position after having made a clearance, a quick Tajikistan throw-in saw Manuchehr Safarov unleash a shot which bounced off the crossbar.

It was end-to-end action with Lebanon next to threaten, Vahdat Hanonov was caught out of position late in the half which opened space for Bassel Jradi to run into, his shot was a tricky one for Yatimov to deal with but the goalkeeper got down quickly to deny the Bangkok United forward.

In the fifth minute of added time, Mabatshoev thought he had struck Tajikistan’s first-ever AFC Asian Cup goal but it was ruled out for offside after a VAR check as the teams went into the break tied.

Lebanon started the second half in fine fashion, scoring their first goal of the tournament two minutes in when Hassan Srour fed Jradi, who curled his shot into the far corner beyond the despairing dive of Yatimov.

Joy turned to worry in the 56th minute for Lebanon after they went down to 10 men following Kassem El Zein’s dismissal, an initial yellow card for a studs-up challenge on Alisher Dzhalilov changed to red after a VAR check.

For the second time in the match, Tajikistan found the back of the net – this time through Dzhalilov in the 69th minute but yet again a VAR check determined that Mabatshoev had been offside in the buildup.

Tajikistan’s first ever AFC Asian Cup goal, however, finally came with 10 minutes remaining when Parvizdzhon Umarbaev produced a delightful free-kick into the bottom corner, giving Matar no chance.

The comeback was completed two minutes into added time when Ehson Panshanbe swung a cross into the box which saw Khamrokulov looping a header into the net beyond Matar as Tajikistan continued their AFC Asian Cup debut into the knockout stage of Qatar 2023.