Saudi Arabia beat Oman in the dying seconds amid farcical VAR scenes at Asian Cup

Defender's goal disallowed by referee before play was called back to signal he was onside for headed goal against Oman

Saudi Arabia's Ali Al Bulayhi was made to wait by a lengthy VAR check and confusion from the referee before celebrating his headed goal to seal a 2-1 win over Oman. Reuters
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Ali Al Bulayhi called his winning goal against Oman "a gift to the Saudi people" as Roberto Mancini's men fought back in the dying seconds to win their opening match at the 2023 Asian Cup.

Saudi Arabia had to endure a farcical few minutes as confusion reigned over whether Al Bulayhi's goal would stand.

Mancini's side trailed to a 14th-minute Salaah Al Yahyaei penalty but equalised through substitute Abdulrahman Ghareeb 12 minutes from time.

Al Bulayhi then headed in following a corner to spark pandemonium for what they thought was the winner.

The goal was disallowed for offside by the assistant referee, and was checked by VAR. He appeared in replays to have been onside.

Then came the confusion when it appeared that referee Shaun Evans had stuck with the original offside call and the game restarted, only for him to call back play and award the goal.

Al Bulayhi celebrated in trademark fashion by inflating a green balloon as his teammates mobbed him.

"The goal is a gift to the Saudi people. This is what great players do," said the 34-year-old defender.

Mancini's plans were thrown into disarray on the eve of their Group F opener when three players were sent home because of concerns over playing time.

Midfielder, and long-time captain, Salman Al Faraj, goalkeeper Nawaf Al Aqidi and full-back Sultan Al Ghannam were released from the 26-man roster ahead of the country’s bid for a fourth continental crown – and first since 1996.

Mancini, who took the Saudi reins in September, said his side made mistakes in the first half "but this is normal in the first game.

"The second half was better than the first half, we created a lot of chances, we had more possession. If you have more possession, you have chances to score.

"Oman defended very well. We didn't find good solutions at first but we had chances and we scored the second goal in the end, but we should have scored before."

His opposite number Branko Ivankovic said the "Saudi team deserved the victory", citing the tiredness of his players as a reason behind Oman's late collapse.

"We wanted to score a second goal for the players to feel comfortable. But towards the end, we didn't have options," Ivankovic added.

Also in Group F, Thailand beat Kyrgyzstan 2-0 with Supachai Chaided scoring both goals.

Buriram United striker Supachai prodded in from close range on 26 minutes to give Thailand the lead over Kyrgyzstan.

He got his second in similar style just after the break when the ball again fell his way with the goal gaping.

Reigning champions Qatar return to action on Wednesday when they will look to seal their place in the last 16 with victory over Tajikistan.

In the other game in Group A, China play Lebanon.

Updated: January 17, 2024, 6:31 AM