Al Ain: Asian Cup hosts UAE and Qatar pulled off titanic upsets as they sent defending champions Australia and Son Heung-min’s South Korea crashing out in the quarter-finals yesterday.
Ali Mabkhout poached a 1-0 win for UAE over Australia and the Qataris ousted South Korea by the same scoreline.
Milos Degenek’s defensive mistake allowed UAE sharpshooter Mabkhout to pounce for a win.
Japan and Iran, with seven Asian Cup titles between them, will play the other semi as the 24-team continental showpiece nears its final in Abu Dhabi next Friday.
Graham Arnold’s Australia will feel aggrieved by their defeat after having the best of it against UAE, only to be undone by a single defensive error on 68 minutes.
Degenek, who this week signed for Saudi giants Al Hilal, rolled a casual ball to Ryan but Mabkhout nipped in and rounded the ‘keeper before scoring into an empty net.
Earlier, in Abu Dhabi, Abdelaziz Hatim fired a late winner as Qatar stunned title-chasing South Korea 1-0 to reach the semis for the first time.
South Korea were looking to end 59 years of hurt in the tournament but the two-time winners missed a string of second-half chances before Hatim’s hammer blow after 78 minutes.
“There are some big emotions today, but it’s no miracle,” said Qatar coach Felix Sanchez.
“We deserve to be in the semis. I feel like the happiest coach in the world – it’s a big step forward.”
It took the Koreans until three minutes into the second half to register a shot on target, Hwang Ui-jo forcing a low save from Saad Al-Sheeb from the edge of the box.
Lee Chung-yong then blazed wide and captain Son Heung-min was denied by Al-Sheeb before Kim Jin-su’s free kick smacked against the post.
That wastefulness came back to haunt them when Hatim smashed a long-range rocket past goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu to give the 2022 World Cup hosts a famous victory.
“We didn’t create too many opportunities but we created more than them,” protested South Korea coach Paulo Bento.
In Al Ain, Trent Sainsbury flashed a header over as Australia proved an early threat but UAE were also looking sharper than their previous games.
Mabkhout nearly connected with a header with the goal at his mercy, and Ismail Al-Hammadi forced a reaction save from Mat Ryan when one-on-one with the Brighton goalkeeper.
Apostolos Giannou saw a shot palmed away as Australia finished the first half strongly, but Mabkhout was inches away when his header just cleared the bar.
The second half was one-way traffic as Degenek and Jackson Irvine went close with headers, and Giannou had the ball in the net but the goal was chalked off for offside.
All Australia needed was a goal and there was disbelief when it went the other way as Mabkhout, a peripheral figure for most of the half, pounced on Degenek’s misplaced back pass.
Mabkhout’s ninth Asian Cup goal put him joint third in the all-time top-scorers list, alongside Japan’s Naohiro Takahara and behind only South Korea’s Lee Dong-gook with 10 and Iranian legend Ali Daei’s 14.