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Asian Cup: Qatar beats Saudi Arabia in first meeting on pitch since blockade

Almoez Ali scores twice in Qatar's 2-0 win in match overshadowed by ongoing diplomatic dispute, but both teams advance to knockout stages
Almoez Ali scored both of Qatar's goals to take his tournament tally to seven (AFP)

Qatar's footballers continued to impress at the AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, winning 2-0 against Saudi Arabia in a match played against the backdrop of Riyadh's continuing blockade of its small Gulf neighbour.

Almoez Ali scored both goals, taking his tally to seven in three games, as Qatar completed the group stage with a perfect record following earlier victories over Lebanon and North Korea.

Saudi Arabia also advanced to the knockout stages of the continental competition, having also won their opening two games.

Qatar will next face Iraq on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi, while the Saudis face Japan in Sharjah on Monday.

Qatar's Almoez Ali clashes with Saudi Arabia's Mohammed al-Burayk (Reuters)

The tournament represents Qatar's best opportunity to gain experience in tournament football before its debut appearance at the World Cup in 2022.

Qatar has never made it to the World Cup finals, hosted every four years, but it will automatically qualify for the next competition as the tournament's host.

The national team has twice reached the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup.

Thursday's match was the first meeting on the football pitch between the countries since Riyadh and its allies, including the UAE, launched the blockade in May 2017, accusing Qatar of sponsoring terrorism and of seeking closer ties with Iran. Doha has robustly denied those allegations.

It was also complicated by an ongoing dispute in which Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports has accused Saudi Arabia of “state-sponsored piracy” over the broadcasting of football matches and other sports events by a channel called beoutQ.

BeIN Sports holds the broadcasting rights for football competitions including the Champions League, the English Premier League and the FIFA World Cup in many Middle Eastern countries.

On Wednesday, BeIN Sports launched a website that linked the pirate operation to Saud al-Qahtani, a close adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has been implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia has denied the claims.

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Both FIFA and the English Premier League have said they are preparing to take legal action in Saudi Arabia against the pirate network, which has been broadcasting through Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat.

In Thursday's match, forward Ali, a 22-year-old who was born in Sudan but moved to Qatar to play football as a child, capitalised on a defensive mistake to open the scoring just before halftime, sliding a low shot past Saudi keeper Mohammed al-Owais.

Ali also drew a foul to win a penalty a few minutes earlier, but Owais stopped Hassan al-Haydos's spot-kick.

He added his second goal with 10 minutes to go to wrap up the win for Qatar, and take his scoring tally to a tournament-leading seven goals.

The Asian Cup now moves forward to the knockout stage, with 16 teams still in contention for a place in the final at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Sports City Stadium on 1 February.

The UAE will face Kyrgyzstan on Monday for a place in the quarterfinals, after beating India and drawing with Thailand and Bahrain in the group stage. Jordan and Iran are also still in the competition.