Melbourne: Ali Mabkhout scored the Asian Cup's fastest recorded goal after just 14 seconds on Thursday as the UAE reached the quarter-finals alongside three-time winners Iran.
Mabkhout pounced just moments after the kick-off against Bahrain in the quickest strike recorded in the event's 61-year history, to set his team on the way to a 2-1 win. And Iran's esteemed coach Carlos Queiroz was left purring at Sardar Azmoun's "brilliant" winner in the 1-0 victory over Qatar, comparing him to the best strikers he has worked with.
But beleaguered Jordan boss Ray Wilkins sought solace in his mother's love on a chaotic day off the pitch marked by fresh recriminations over a bungled dope test which robbed the Englishman of a key player.
High-flying Australia, still missing captain Mile Jedinak through injury, suffered another setback with the news that Aston Villa defender Chris Herd is out of the tournament with an Achilles problem. UAE grabbed the headlines, however, with striker Mabkhout sparking his side to a victory over Bahrain which kept them on top of Group C on goal difference.
It was his third goal of the Asian Cup after netting a brace in the 4-1 victory over Gulf Cup champions Qatar at the weekend, making him the competition's top scorer. However, UAE needed an own goal from Bahrain captain Mohamed Hasan to take the points. Not at their best, Iran did enough to scrape past Qatar 1-0 to also make it two wins out of two, Azmoun striking seven minutes into the second half with a likely contender for goal of the tournament.
"It was a brilliant goal," gushed Iran coach Carlos Queiroz, charged with ending a 39-year title drought. "It was a special movement of the centre-forward, a great turn at the level of some of the best centre-forwards I have worked with in my life."
Praise indeed from the former Real Madrid and Portugal boss, who has worked with some of the game's greats, including world footballer of the year Cristiano Ronaldo. Azmoun produced a magical turn and finish to seal the three points but Iran's stuttering display sparked an angry reaction from Queiroz in the second half, the Portuguese hurling a water bottle to the ground in disgust at his team's inability to retain possession. - Cashing out - Qatar, who won the Gulf Cup last November, will be playing for pride in their final game, something of an embarrassment after winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup.
"At this level you pay cash for any kind of mistakes," said Qatar coach Djamel Belmadi. "That's what happened today. I hope they learn from it." Wilkins had a busy day in Melbourne, initially locked out of his own press conference after forgetting his accreditation and then blasting Asian Cup organisers for a botched doping test which made striker Ahmad Hayel sick, potentially ending his tournament.
"The important thing is to put football into perspective," Wilkins told reporters. "People are far more important than a game of football. We may lose Ahmad for two games. We've lost a very important player." The Jordanian FA has lodged a formal protest to the Asian Football Confederation, claiming the player began vomiting after being forced to drink water to help him give a urine sample after a 1-0 defeat by Iraq earlier this week.
Wilkins confirmed Hayel will miss Friday's game against Palestine in Melbourne, and possibly their final Group D clash with Japan, although the forward told AFP: "I will play against Japan even if it kills me. I am so sad about what happened because the Jordan fans rely on me." As Wilkins fielded questions about his future after Jordan's woeful run of form, the former Queens Park Rangers and Fulham manager took a philosophical view.
"If you don't win, you get the sack," he said before being escorted from the building by over-zealous security guards while a team official was dispatched to pick up his name tag. "That's life. I'm still alive, my family love me, my mum thinks I'm gorgeous!"