2020 AFC U23 Championship: Thailand booted out by Saudi Arabia in controversial fashion

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Hosts Thailand have been eliminated from the 2020 AFC U23 Championship in controversial fashion after a questionable penalty allowed Saudi Arabia to claim a 1-0 win in the quarter-finals on Saturday.

Abdullah Al-Hamdan emerged as the hero for the Saudi Arabians as he kept his cool to convert the only goal of the game from the spot in the 78th minute, but the man that at the centre of the attention will be referee Ahmed Al-Kaf and perhaps the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for the decision to award the penalty.

While the debate will likely rage on in days to come, the fact of the matter remains that it is Saudi Arabia who are through to the semi-finals – where they will meet either United Arab Emirates or Uzbekistan – and still have a chance of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

AFC U23 Championship Highlights – Saudi Arabia vs Thailand

Buoyed by a home crowd that has grown in support with each passing game, Thailand started the brighter of the two sides and were unlucky not to break the deadlock after just six minutes.

Finding space on the left side of the box, Suphanat Mueanta curled away a sublime effort that had Mohammed Al-Yami rooted to the spot – only to see it come back off the post.

Gradually, Saudi Arabia got into the contest and started creating chances of their own, and Al-Hamdan wastefully blazed over from five yards out with plenty of goal to aim for having been picked out by Sami Al-Najei’s inch-percent pass in the 31st minute.

Four minutes later, Al-Hamdan had another sighting at goal – this time after being slipped in by Khalid Al-Ghannam – and while he at least hit the target this time with a firm right-footed effort, Thailand goalkeeper Korraphat Nareechan was equal to the task as he stuck out a strong right hand to parry to safety.

Overall, the contest was a cagey one and that was perhaps understandable given the high-stakes nature of it, but real drama happened with 16 minutes remaining when Al-Hamdan went down inside the area.

Al-Kaf initially awarded a freekick on the edge of the box for a tug on Al-Hamdan by Sorawit Panthong but, following a lengthy delay, changed his decision to a penalty upon advice from the VAR – without venturing to the sidelines for a second look at the pitch-side monitor.

The Thais looked incredulous but after the dust had settled, it was Al Hamdan who stepped up to the spot and made amends for his earlier miss – opting for power and smashing his penalty in off the underside of the bar.

Al-Hamdan held his nerve to convert from the spot and win it for Saudi Arabia.

Now needing a goal to keep alive their hopes, Thailand pushed forward with far greater intent and it naturally left gaps at the back, with Saudi Arabia having a host of chances to kill off the contest but failing to capitalise.

Nonetheless, the single goal proved to be enough for the win although the controversial manner in which they attained it will be debated aplenty.

SAUDI ARABIA: Mohammed Al-Yami, Saud Abdulhamid, Hassan Tombakti, Abdulbassit Hindi, Khaled Dubaish, Ali Al-Hassan, Mukhtar Ali, Ayman Al-Khulaif (Abdulrahman Ghareeb 61’), Sami Al-Najei, Khalid Al-Ghannam (Hussain Al-Eisa 86’), Abdullah Al-Hamdan (Firas Al-Buraikan 90+4’).

THAILAND: Korraphat Nareechan, Meechok Marhasaranukun (Worachit Kanitsribampen 81’), Thitawee Aksornsi, Saringkarn Promsupa, Thitathorn Aksornsri, Kritsada Kaman, Sorawit Panthong, Anon Amornlerdsak (Ben Davis 88’), Supachok Sarachat, Suphanat Mueanta (Jaroensak Wonggorn 73’), Supachai Jaided.