Striker Iyad Abu Gharquod was hailed as a hero in the city of Al Ram as Palestine celebrated an astounding success by the Jerusalem-based Hilal Al-Quds, who squeezed out a 1-0 win over Cambodian champions Boeung Ket Rubber Field in a tension-packed winner-takes-all 2013 AFC President’s Cup Group C tie at Olympic Stadium on Friday.
The winning goal, which came in the dying minutes of the game, gave the visitors a deserving qualifying ticket, along with group toppers Balkan from Turkmenistan, to the final phase fixed for September 23-29 at a venue yet to be decided.
Going into this crucial game in a must-win situation, Boeung Ket played their hearts out until Gharquod broke them by delivering his third goal in three matches, perhaps the most remarkable strike of his whole career.
With Balkan winding up their three-match campaign by blasting Sri Lanka Army Sports Club 5-0, Al-Quds and Boeung Ket were locked in a titanic struggle for survival.
A game full of thrust and parry was heading inexorably to a goalless conclusion, a prospect that was warmly welcome in the Palestine camp, when 25-year-old Gharquod stumbled upon an opening to calm the nerves in his own dug out and more or less silence the crowd that had been heartily rooting for the local side.
A visibly disappointed Prak Vuthy put it all down to an unfortunate set of circumstances that led to the only goal of the game. “We battled as hard as we could. We had our share of chances but they managed to convert that crucial one,” the coach said in his post-match analysis.
The Metfone C-League champions decidedly enjoyed a bigger chunk of space and possession during the first half, though Al-Quds showed greater gumption in the second and were almost fighting on level terms.
Boeung Ket’s focus will now shift to the month end’s Singapore Cup, and this three-match experience, coach Prak Vuthy feels, will stand the team in good stead.
It was a frustrating end to the Sri Lankans visit to Phnom Penh. Balkan fired five goals past the Army men, who return home with a miserable 0-21 scoring record, having lost 6-0 to Boeung Ket and 10-0 to Al-Quds earlier in the week.
Balkan head coach Rahim Kurbanmamedov rested most of his regulars and brought in five of those who were on the bench against Boeung Ket to start. Gahryman Chonkayez opened the scoring two minutes into the game.
Skipper Vladimir Barymov doubled Balkan’s lead 10 minutes later for a first half cushion of 2-0.
Rahmet Shermetov and Batyr Atamammedov struck a goal each before Lakshitha Jayathunga’s 79th minute own goal brought a dreadful end to Sri Lankans campaign.