Lebanon defeats Hong Kong in AFC Asian Cup qualifiers
Hong Kong: Hassan Maatouk’s first-half penalty proved enough for Lebanon to confirm top spot in Group B of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 qualifying campaign following a 1-0 victory over Hong Kong on Tuesday.
The hosts had the better of the first half at Hong Kong Stadium but, after Tan Chun Lok had been sent off for a foul in the box in the 40th minute, fell behind to captain Maatouk’s spot-kick as Lebanon took a one-goal advantage into the interval.
The East Asians continued to press after the restart but struggled to create chances as Lebanon saw out the victory to leave Hong Kong needing to beat DPR Korea in Pyongyang next March in order to advance to the continental competition for the first time since 1968.
Hong Kong shaded the opening stages and almost took the lead on 15 minutes when Andrew Russell headed Wong Wai’s free-kick from the right goalwards only for goalkeeper Mehdi Kahlil to produce a superb save low to his right to deny the defender.
Kim Pan-gon’s side were busy in their search for an opener, looking most threatening from wide, but it was Lebanon - having already qualified for the 2019 tournament - who were more composed in possession as the half hour passed with few chances.
Seven minutes before the interval Hong Kong again came close after good work from Xu Deshuai down the right eventually saw the ball land at the feet of Daniel Cancela, whose effort from 15 yards was expertly tipped over by a flying Kahlil.
But the home side gave themselves a mountain to climb just three minutes later when Tan was dismissed for upending Samir Ayass in the box and Maatouk coolly dispatched the ensuing penalty for his fourth goal of the campaign.
Xu’s speculative cross-cum-shot almost caught Kahlil off guard as the hour approached but the custodian was again on hand to push to safety and further frustrate Hong Kong.
With the hosts pushing for the equaliser, the game became increasingly open as the second half moved towards the latter stages, but the visitors were unable to make the most of their man advantage when in promising positions.
Substitute Mohamad Zein Tahan could have killed the game off in the dying moments, though, only to see his effort cleared off the line but the 1-0 victory maintained the West Asians’ unbeaten run in Group B and left Hong Kong facing a do-or-die clash with second-placed DPR Korea.