Asian Cup: Uzbekistan qualifies for quarterfinals with win vs. Saudi Arabia
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Midfielder Sardor Rashidov scored a goal in each half to give Uzbekistan a 3-1 victory over Saudi Arabia on Sunday and a spot in the Asian Cup quarterfinals.
Uzbekistan will next face South Korea in Melbourne on Thursday after finishing second in Group B to China, which completed a clean sweep of the group stage for the first time with a 2-1 win over already eliminated North Korea.
China already secured top spot in the group with wins over Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, and faces host Australia on Thursday in Brisbane.
A jubilant Uzbekistan team formed a circle on the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium pitch after its match and danced around coach Mirdjalal Kasimov, who predicted there will be "big holiday in Uzbekistan now."
"It was one of the great winning games," Kasimov said. "It was great because of our players, they have done everything and they put all their power on the pitch. If we play like that in all our games we'll get the same result."
Uzbekistan lost a qualifier 1-0 to South Korea in 2013 to miss a chance of a spot at the 2014 World Cup and Kasimov said his players were eager to reverse that result.
"Of course we always think about that losing game to Korea and I think our players will do their best and it will be a very interesting game," he said.
Uzbekistan took the lead after just 90 seconds when man of the match Rashidov stole the ball against the run of play just inside the Saudi half before beating three defenders and sliding a shot between the legs of Saudi goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah.
Saudi Arabia pushed relentlessly for no reward either side of halftime until Mohammed Al Sahlawi finally equalized from the penalty spot in the 60th minute when Naif Hazazi was brought down by Vitaly Denisov in the area.
Uzbekistan looked to have scored from a free kick just two minutes later, but an apparent goal was called back after the referee ruled a Saudi defender was pulled down while standing in the wall.
Second-half substitute Vokhid Shodiev restored the lead for Uzbekistan in the 71st when he leapt to meet a long cross from Shavkatjon Mulladjanov and powerfully headed the ball inside the near post.
Rashidov claimed his second goal to put the win beyond doubt in the 79th when he gathered a long, centering pass from Jasur Khasanov inside the area and outran the Saudi defense before firing the ball past Abdullah in the Saudi net.
"It's disappointing for me, for everyone," Saudi Arabia coach Cosmin Olariou said. "When you make mistakes like we did today, sometimes you pay a price, and the price was qualification."
Sun Ke scored in the 1st and 42nd minutes in front of a raucous Canberra Stadium crowd of more than 18,000 mostly Chinese fans. North Korea's goal came via an own goal from Lin Gao in the 56th.
North Korea coach Jo Tong Seob was upbeat after his side's third straight loss of the tournament.
"This tournament is on the way to the Russia World Cup in 2018, so I regard this as preparation for the team," Jo said. "This tournament in Australia will be very good experience and motivate our team for further success, including qualification for the 2018 World Cup."
On Monday, Iran and the United Arab Emirates — who have already qualified for the quarterfinals from Group C — will meet in Brisbane, while eliminated Qatar and Bahrain will be playing for pride in Sydney.