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Jordan reach Asian Cup last 16

UAE go top as Thailand bounce back; India lose

India midfielder Ashique Kuruniyan (left), and United Arab Emirates midfielder Ali Salmeen fight for the ball during the AFC Asian Cup Group A soccer match between United Arab Emirates and India at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Jan 10. (AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Jan 10, (AP): Jordan became the first team to qualify for the knockout stages of the Asian Cup on Thursday. Thailand now have hope of joining them in the last 16 after a change of coaches had an immediate impact, with the team earning just thier second win in 22 games in the competition.

Group B leaders Jordan followed up their upset win against defending champions Australia in their opening match with a 2-0 victory over neighboring Syria.

In Group A, Chanathip Songkrasin scored the only goal as Thailand beat Bahrain 1-0 and United Arab Emirates beat India 2-0. UAE moved top of the group, one point above India and Thailand. Thailand fired coach Milovan Rajevac following Sunday’s 4-1 loss to India and appointed his assistant, Sirisak Yodyardthai, as interim coach. Sirisak made five changes to the team which lost to India, and Thailand was also helped by some wayward finishing from Bahrain which managed only three shots on target out of 15 attempts. Thailand grew in confidence as Bahrain failed to translate their dominance into goals, and Chanathip broke the deadlock in the 58th minute after Tristan Do’s cross was defl ected into his path by Bahrain defender Ahmed Ali Juma. Chanathip came close to setting up Thailand’s second when he picked out an unmarked Adisak Kraisorn but his effort hit the post.

The meeting of Thailand and Bahrain on the pitch came a day after FIFA issued a fresh plea for a “humane and speedy resolution” to an extradition case involving a footballer that has been criticized by human rights groups. Hakeem al-Araibi, a former international for Bahrain, was granted refugee status in Australia last year after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured.

He was arrested while on holiday in Thailand in November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station – a charge he denies.

“This situation should not have arisen, in particular, since Mr. Al-Araibi now lives and works and plays as a professional footballer in Australia, where he has been accorded refugee status,” FIFA said in a statement. “FIFA is therefore calling on all the relevant authorities (in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia) to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr. Hakeem Al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia where he can resume his career as a professional footballer.”

The top two teams in each group and the four best third-place teams advance to the round of 16. UAE had a disappointing start to the tournament as the hosts needed a late penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw with Bahrain but the team showed a marked improvement in Thursday’s victory over India.

Khalfan Mubarak chipped India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to give UAE the lead four minutes from halftime. India missed a number of good opportunities and also hit the underside of the crossbar before Ali Ahmed Mabkhout sealed the result with two minutes remaining. In Group B, the result never looked in doubt for Jordan, which scored both its goals in the first half. Mousa Suleiman netted the opener and had a hand in the second as he crossed for Tareq Khattab to head in at the near post.

Meanwhile, Qatari state-owned sports broadcaster beIN has asked Italy’s soccer league not to play a showpiece match in Saudi Arabia, accusing the country of backing the pirating of live coverage, and highlighting protests from human rights activists. The staging of the Italian Super Cup in Jeddah next Wednesday has embroiled game organizer Serie A in the Saudi-led economic boycott of Qatar that has been in place for 19 months.

With beIN holding the Middle East rights to most major sporting events, viewers across the region are reliant on paying for subscriptions for Dohaoriginated telecasts. That has led to the network becoming a proxy in the regional diplomatic standoff stemming from accusations, which Qatar denies, that the super-rich state supports militant groups.

Evidence has been gathered by beIN claiming to show how Saudi-backed channels are ripping off their live action and inserting “beoutQ” branding over the Qatari logos, including for matches in Serie A where Cristiano Ronaldo plays for Juventus. Global governing body FIFA is among soccer organizations backing its rights holder by pursuing legal action in Saudi Arabia. BeIN chief executive officer Yousef Al-Obaidly has written to Serie A counterpart Luigi De Siervo, who was appointed last month, to demand the Italian league “join the international sporting community’s fight against piracy by beoutQ.”

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