AL AIN, United Arab Emirates, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Qatar strode impressively into the knockout rounds of the Asian Cup on Sunday as the 2022 World Cup hosts handed North Korea a 6-0 thrashing, with striker Almoez Ali scoring a record-equalling four times for Felix Sanchez’s side.
The Al Duhail forward was in rampant form for the Qataris as he became only the fourth player in Asian Cup history to score four in a single game.
Ali helped himself against a poor North Korean side, who trailed from the ninth minute and were six goals down with a quarter of the game still to go.
Qatar’s win moves them into pole position in group E and means they can finish no lower than second in the group whatever the outcome of their meeting with Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
The winner of that tie will face either Japan or Uzbekistan in the Round of 16 after those two nations guaranteed they would finish in first and second place in group F following wins over Oman and Turkmenistan respectively.
The leading pair also meet on Thursday to determine the finishing order in the group.
Ali put Qatar in command with goals in the ninth and 11th minutes before Boualem Khoukhi netted his side’s third from close range two minutes before the interval.
He completed his hat-trick 10 minutes into the second half after latching on to Akram Afif’s through ball and slotting past Ri Myung Guk.
Five minutes later, the same pair combined again for Ali to notch his fourth before Asian Player of the Year Abdelkarim Hassan completed the rout with a fine solo goal midway through the second half.
“We’re very pleased with the performance the team displayed today,” said Sanchez, after his side had registered the biggest win of the tournament so far.
“The fact of scoring early also gave us the confidence to keep going and the team never stopped trying to keep playing our game, even when it seemed the game was over, with the fourth goal especially.”
Japan had a penalty from Genki Haraguchi to thank for their routine 1-0 win over Oman as Hajime Moriyasu continued his unbeaten run since taking over as Japan coach following the World Cup.
The result means Japan are second in group F and must beat Uzbekistan on Thursday to win the group after Hector Cuper’s team thrashed neighbours Turkmenistan 4-0 in the day’s late game.
Eldor Shomurodov claimed two — in the 24th and 42nd minutes — while Javokhir Sidikov and Jaloliddin Masharipov were also on target for Uzbekistan. (Editing by Ian Chadband)