Mabrook Oman


Omanís lone scorer Abdulaziz Al Maqbali (No. 9 in red) and famed striker Imad Al Hosni (No. 20 back to camera) causing a goalmouth melee as Syrian defenders scramble to save their citadel, in the AFC Asian Cup 2015 qualifier, at Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Muscat, yesterday. Jun Estrada / Times of Oman

Muscat: Oman could not have asked for a better start than this as Paul Le Guen's boys kicked off their AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015 qualifying campaign in style with a 1-0 win over Syria in Group A, at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Bausher.

Abdulaziz Al Maqbali, who missed the first goal-scoring chance in the 30th minute, had a perfect script in mind, when he volleyed home Qasim Said's cross from the left, past the Syrian goalkeeper Mosab Balhous nine minutes later.

The Reds, who made a positive start to their campaign to qualify for the continental championship for the third time and the first time since 2007, completely dominated the game in the first half. 

As Oman chose to sit back and defend their lead in the second half, a Syrian supporter entered the field and disrupted the game before he was whisked away by the security officials.

With just minutes to go for the final whistle, Ouday Abduljaffal went closest to giving Syria a share of spoils. But his shot missed the post by a whisker.

Speaking to Times Sport, soon after the match, Oman Football Association (OFA) Chairman Sayyid Khalid Al Busaidi said gaining the first three points from the opening game was vital for the squad.

"We are in a tough group and to win the opening match itself is an important thing. Now we have to keep this momentum going," he said.

A delighted coach Le Guen praised his boys for making a comeback after their disappointing outings at the recently concluded Gulf Cup in Bahrain.
"I think this victory is more special to us because of what happened in the Gulf Cup. I must thank my players for winning it. I could not have asked for more," said the soft-spoken Frenchman.

Heaping praise on Qasim, who came close to doubling Oman's lead towards the end of the second half, Le Guen said the young striker has finally come of age.

"He is highly talented. I have no words to praise this young kid. I am pleased with his performance. I want him to be consistent and I am going to push him for much better performance in the future," Le Guen said. The Oman coach also said he now has 20 'talented players' in the squad to choose from for the remaining World Cup qualifying matches.

Oman are still in contention for a berth in the Fifa World Cup 2014 after remaining equal on points with Iraq and Australia in Group B. If they manage to win the remaining three matches of the competition, they will qualify directly for the next year's finals in Brazil. They have a difficult away trip to Australia in March followed by a home tie against Iraq before wrapping up the campaign with a trip to Jordan. "This win has boosted our morale but we need to focus on our next World Cup qualifying game against Australia. That is going to be tough but everything is possible in football," Le Guen added.

A disappointed, Syrian coach, Husam Al Sayed, said his side would take the positives out of their match against Oman. "They (Oman) deserved to win this match. But my boys came back well in the second half and that is something to be confident about," he noted.
Oman skipper and international goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, who lapped around the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex with his teammates in celebration, had this to say: "This is just a start. As I said before the match, we can easily bounce back and that is what we did exactly. We need to keep this momentum going."

In the other Group A match of the Asian Cup qualifier, Jordan beat Singapore 4-0 yesterday. Oman will next play Singapore on August 14.

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