Substitute Nuriddin Khamrokulov scored with a delicate backwards header to take the lead late on

Doha (AFP) - Tajikistan’s coach said it was “a big dream” after his side marched into the knockout rounds of their first Asian Cup with a battling 2-1 win over 10-man Lebanon on Monday.

China’s 1-0 loss to hosts Qatar meant the debutants – who also had two goals ruled out by VAR – went through in second place from Group A on a night of drama.

Before the third and final round of games, holders Qatar were the only team to have scored a goal in the group, and any of the other three had a shot at finishing behind them in second.

Either Lebanon or Tajikistan could have gone through as second place in Group A

By the end it was 106th ranked Tajikistan who went through thanks to two classy goals in the 80th and 92nd minutes. Lebanon’s tournament is over.

At the final whistle Tajikistan’s players celebrated with the small number of their fans inside the stadium.

Coach Petar Segrt said it was “a big dream to go through”.

“Every day we stay here longer is fantastic. We have our first dream: we make the qualification. We have our second dream: we want to go to the second round. Now we dream again,” said the Croatian.

“This is football. Every one of us has a dream.”

In a stadium festooned with their cedar-tree flags, Lebanon took control of the game early but found no more penetration than they had in their previous two games.

Tajikistan were mostly restricted to shots from outside the box until the stroke of half time.

Midfielder Mabatshoev Shervoni slalomed into the area, his attempted cross taking a huge deflection and looping over the wrong-footed goalkeeper and into the net.

But Tajik celebrations were cut short when the referee ruled the goal out for the tightest of offsides.

Their misery was compounded almost immediately after half-time when Bangkok United forward Bassel Jradi arched in a delicious strike from the edge of the area and inside the far post.

Lebanon soon had a man sent off when a VAR check upgraded Kassem El Zein’s yellow card – for a studs-up, over-the-ball tackle – to a red.

With a man advantage, Tajikistan camped out in the opposition half and as the 70th minute approached they once again thought they had scored, but Alisher Dzhalilov’s goal was scratched off, again for a slender offside.

When their equaliser did finally arrive, there could be no doubt, Parvizdzhon Umarbaev with a curling free-kick.

As things stood the Tajiks were going through in second place, but they continued to push for a winner.

No sooner had the fourth official signalled 16 minutes of added time than they got it, substitute Nuriddin Khamrokulov flicking a delicate backwards header over goalkeeper Mostafa Matar.

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While the colourful Segrt agreed with the VAR decisions that disallowed his side two goals, he added: “It’s mentally very difficult to come back and today we continued to fight.

“These players are fighting, they are ready to do everything for their country.”

Goalscorer Umarbaev dedicated the win to Takjikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, who had earlier given the players a motivational speech.

Lebanon’s coach Miodrag Radulovic said his team played well “for 56 minutes”, lamenting that “after one loss of concentration we got a red card”.

“It’s very difficult to play more than 50 minutes with one player (missing).”