Saudi Arabia defeated Bangladesh 3-0 in Tashkent on Tuesday to secure a place in the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup. It was tight, however, as the Young Falcons qualified by virtue of being the third of the four best runners-up from the 11 groups.
After the 2020 runners-up lost to group winners Kuwait on Saturday, only a win would suffice and even then it depended on goal difference. So from the start Saad Al-Shehri’s men attacked Bangladesh, who followed a 1-0 loss to Kuwait with a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Uzbekistan.
As early as the second minute, Saudi Arabia almost scored as Aiman Yahya shot over the bar. The first goal finally came in the 16th minute when they won a corner. Hamed Abdullah Al-Ghamdi swung it in and there was Saud Abdulah rising highest to head home.
Al-Shehri knew that more goals were needed and the second came just three minutes later. A free-kick from Turki Al-Ammar was saved but Ziyad Al-Johani was on hand to shoot home the rebound.
The game calmed down from that point with Bangladesh retreating deeper in an attempt to avoid another thrashing. Saudi Arabia had to wait until just past the halfway point of the second half, when the lively Al-Ammar was again involved, his cross from the right slotted home from close range by Yahya.
“We did what we came here to do,” Al-Shehri said. “I want to give credit to the players as they kept going until the end. We didn’t have much time to prepare for these qualifiers as they were busy with their clubs. Now we have to focus on achieving success in the tournament itself.”
Bangladesh boss Maraful Haque was also satisfied with the performance. “We don’t have much experience against teams like Saudi Arabia and I thought we competed well and it was a good opportunity for my players to face a good team.”
Saudi Arabia did enough in the end to qualify for the tournament that has been rescheduled for next June in Uzbekistan.
Even so, having to squeeze in to the 16-team Asian championships as one of the best runners-up in their group was not ideal. That will be forgotten if the team performs well in Uzbekistan next year, but there is much work to do.