Doha: Qatar stormed into the Asian Cup quarter-finals for only the second time in their history on Sunday with a commanding 3-0 victory over Gulf champions Kuwait, who were eliminated from the tournament.
They went through after Uzbekistan drew 2-2 with China to top Group A, allowing Qatar to finish second and make the last eight for the first time since 2000.
Captain Bilal Mohammed got the opening goal on 11 minutes after a blistering start from the 2022 World Cup hosts with Mohamed El Sayed scoring the second five minutes later.
Brazilian-born substitute Fabio Cesar put the game beyond doubt four minutes from time with a beautifully weighted freekick that left the goalkeeper stranded.
It capped a remarkable comeback by Qatar, who lost their opening match to the Uzbeks 2-0 then rebounded to beat China by the same scoreline before Sunday`s heroics.
They now face whoever finishes top in Group B, which will be either Japan, Jordan or Syria, for a place in the semi-finals.
Coach Bruno Metsu said their tournament was only just beginning.
"We have qualified and being the host nation in this tournament it was very important for us to qualify. Today I am very happy," the Frenchman said.
"We have accomplished what we set out to do but our ambition is to go well beyond this. The fans deserve it."
For Kuwait, it was a reality check after they won the West Asian Football Federation Championship in October on their maiden appearance then followed it up by lifting the Gulf Cup of Nations trophy last month.
They head home with three defeats out of three, although coach Goran Tufegdzic`s job appears to be safe.
"Those two early goals caused big problems for our team," said Tufegdzic.
"In the second half I tried to get us to push forward but it is football. Our team maybe didn`t have enough energy and power. Today Qatar was the better team."
Qatar threw down the gauntlet from the opening whistle in a blistering start with Sebastian Soria sending a header wide after just two minutes and Yusef Ahmed troubling the keeper again soon after.
Metsu said ahead of the game that he wanted an early goal and his team did their best to do as they were told.
Midfield dynamo Lawrence almost put them in front on 10 minutes with a scorching 30-yard freekick that goalkeeper Nawaf Al Khaldi did well to tip over the bar.
But the deadlock didn`t last much longer as Mohammed connected with a cross from Ibrahim Al Ghanim a minute later to head the ball past the flailing arms of Al Khaldi and send the crowd into raptures.
Kuwait were all over the place, barely getting a look in, as Qatar ramped up the pressure and it was 2-0 five minutes later when El Sayed picked up the ball after a goalmouth scramble and buried it in the back of the net.
The furious pace eased after the second goal and the game went off the boil, with Kuwait failing to get any significant shots on goal in the opening 30 minutes.
Their first chance came six minutes before the break when Bader Al Mutwa sent a half-hearted bicycle kick straight into the arms of Qatari keeper Qasem Burhan.
Kuwait started the second period in far more lively fashion but the chances were still elusive with Al Mutwa`s limp 25-yard drive summing up their day.
Their frustrations were clear with defender Hussain Fadhel losing the plot and lucky to escape punishment after shoving Bilal Mohammed in the face after the pair collided.
With Qatar content to sit on their lead and defend, it turned into a midfield tussle before Cesar hammered the final nail in Kuwait`s coffin as the clock ticked down.