Saudi Arabia beat nine-man Kyrgyzstan 2-0 on Sunday to secure a place in the second round of the Asian Cup with a game to spare. Goals from Mohamed Kanno in the first half and then Faisal Al-Ghamdi in the second means that a draw against Thailand on Friday will be enough to secure first place in Group F.
It was far from a vintage performance by the three-time champions against a team that played over 80 minutes with 10 men and over 40 with nine but the Green Falcons did enough and are through.
The game changed due to an eighth-minute red card handed to Aizar Akmatov. The central defender’s rash challenge on Sami Al-Naji, where he went over the ball with his studs showing just outside the area initially resulted in a yellow card, but after a video review it was changed to red and a tricky task was changed to monumental. It would have been even worse had the resultant free kick taken by Mohammed Al-Breik not been tipped acrobatically over the bar by Erzhan Tokotaev.
A goal looked imminent and soon Saud Abdulhamid sent over a low cross from the right that flew across the face of goal with nobody in a green shirt able to get on the end of it.
The breakthrough came after 35 minutes. A long-range shot from Abdulelah Al-Malki beat the goalkeeper but bounced back off the post. It was floated back in the area by Abdulhamid for Kanno to volley home at the far post.
It was always going to be a tricky proposition from then on for the Central Asians who lost their opening fixture to Thailand. The statistics at the break told it all with the Green Falcons enjoying three-quarters of the possession and 11 shots to zero from their opponents.
Seven minutes into the second half, it got worse for the team in white as Kemi Merk was shown a red, also after VAR upgraded the initial yellow, for his challenge on Hassan Tambakti.
It was then just a question of how many of Roberto Mancini’s men would score. Kanno forced a save as did Saleh Al-Shehri, introduced for the injured Tambakti after 54 minutes. With 18 minutes remaining, Kanno produced a powerful header from a right-sided corner only for the ball to hit the woodwork. Al-Shehri had a couple more chances to add to his international tally but was unable to do so due to a combination of poor finishing and committed defending.
The second finally came with five minutes left. Al-Ghamdi tried his luck with a long-range shot which went through the hitherto excellent Tokotaev in goal and into the back of the net.
Saudi Arabia will be looking to secure top spot on Friday against Thailand, who have four points after drawing with Oman on Sunday. A point will be enough for now though at some stage, performances will have to improve.