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Saudi Arabia beats 9-man Kyrgyzstan 2-0 to advance to the knockout stage of Asian Cup

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Saudi Arabia advanced to the knockout stage of the Asian Cup with a game to spare after beating nine-man Kyrgyzstan 2-0 on Sunday.

Goals in each half from Mohamed Kanno and Faisal Al-Ghamdi at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, Qatar, put the three-time champions in first place in Group F.

The Saudis have six points from two games and are two points ahead of Thailand, which earlier drew 0-0 with Oman. Third-place Oman has one point and Kyrgyzstan is pointless.

The task for Saudi Arabia was made much easier by Kyrgyzstan, which was making only a second appearance in the tournament, having a player sent off early in each half.

“I think that we played a good game,” Saudi Arabia coach Roberto Mancini said. “We played better when it was 11 against 11 but in the end we got the right result.”

Mancini, who led Italy to the European Championship title in 2021 before leaving the post to take the job in Riyadh last August, played down his team’s chances of lifting the trophy for the first time since 1996.

“The favorites to win the tournament are Japan, Korea, Australia and Iran,” he said, “Their ranking is very high.”

The first player to be dismissed was Aizar Akmatov for a rash challenge on Sami Al-Naji after just eight minutes.

Kanno broke the deadlock 10 minutes before the break, volleying home Saud Abdulhamid's cross at the far post.

Seven minutes into the second half, Kimi Merk was also shown a red for a dangerous tackle.

It resulted in almost constant pressure from Saudi Arabia and, with six minutes remaining, Al-Ghamdi’s long-range shot took a deflection and went through the hands of the otherwise impressive Erzhan Tokotaev in goal.

“It is difficult to play against Saudi Arabia with 11 players but with nine it is too difficult,” Tajikistan captain Tamirlan Kozubaev said. “We did our best.”

Earlier, Thailand moved closer to securing a spot in the knockout stage with its scoreless draw against Oman.

There was little attacking action of note at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha with a close-range header from Elias Dolah of Thailand in the 15th minute almost crossing the line before it was cleared.

Oman, which lost its opening game against Saudi Arabia, struggled to break through the committed Thailand defense. Issam Al-Sabhi came closest with a shot that was saved late in the game.

“We are so happy to get one point and everybody worked hard for each other,” Thailand defender Pansa Hemviboom said. “We communicated well as a team to get this result.”

Oman needs a win in its final group match against Kyrgyzstan to keep alive its hopes of a place in the knockout stage.

The top two teams from each of the six groups advance, along with the four best runners-up.

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