Melbourne: Sardor Rashidov scored twice as Uzbekistan set up an AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015 quarter-final with Korea Republic after securing a crucial 3-1 win over Group B rivals Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Uzbekistan had to win to deny Saudi Arabia a place in the last eight and the Central Asians enjoyed the ideal start at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium as recalled 23-year-old Bunyodkor midfielder Rashidov netted inside the opening two minutes.
Mohammed Al Sahlawi did pull Saudi Arabia level from the penalty spot on the hour mark, but after substitute Vokhid Shodiev restored Uzbekistan’s advantage 11 minutes later, Rashidov’s second of the night with just over 10 minutes remaining saw Mirdjalal Kasimov’s 2011 semi-finalists secure a fourth consecutive quarter-finals appearance.
Needing to win to progress from Group B alongside table-toppers China, Uzbekistan coach Kasimov made five changes following Wednesday’s defeat by China, with captain Server Djeparov, Sanjar Tursunov, Igor Sergeev, Timur Kapadze and Akmal Shorakhmedov dropped to the bench.
And it was one of their replacements who handed Uzbekistan the ideal start inside 90 seconds as Rashidov charged into the penalty area following poor defending by Saudi Arabia, coupled with a fortunate deflection, before coolly guiding his strike through the legs of goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah at his near post.
Uzbekistan remained on top as the half progressed against a shell-shocked Saudi Arabia who continued to struggle to settle into the contest with Cosmin Olaroiu’s side, who showed one change from their win over DPR Korea last time out, only needing a draw to progress at the expense of their opponents.
Saudi Arabia did enjoy a brighter end to the first half, although Uzbekistan goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov remained largely untested.
The tight nature of the contest continued at the start of the second half, although despite Uzbekistan enjoying the greater share of possession, Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Abdullah was also enjoying a quiet evening following the early goal.
But the game suddenly swung Saudi Arabia’s way on the hour mark as Al Sahlawi confidently beat Nesterov from the penalty spot after Vitaliy Denisov had been adjudged to have bundled over Naif Hazazi inside the area as the pair challenged to meet Abdulla Al Dossary’s left wing cross.
Saudi Arabia, though, were back on level terms for just 11 minutes as Shodiev, who replaced Jamshid Iskanderov shortly after the equaliser, out-jumped Yasir Al Shahrani to meet Shavkat Mulladjanov’s right wing cross, and the striker guided his header back across the face and goal and into the bottom corner with Abdullah rooted to the spot.
And with Saudi Arabia pushing forward, Rashidov was found in space on the near side by Jasur Khasanov’s superb cross field pass and the midfielder beat exposed goalkeeper Abdullah from inside the penalty area to double Uzbekistan’s lead and hand 2007 finalists Saudi Arabia a second consecutive group stage exit.
Source : Asian Football Confederation website