JAKARTA, July 22 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia survived a furious Uzbekistan onslaught to win their Asian Cup quarter-final 2-1 on Sunday to set up a semi-final clash with Japan.
Yasser Al Qahtani gave the Saudis the best possible start,
putting them ahead in only the third minute. After soaking up
heavy pressure, the Gulf side went 2-0 up in the 75th minute
when Ahmed Al Mousa strode onto a return pass in the box and
confidently clipped the ball home.
Uzbekistan, who hit the woodwork five times and had a goal
disallowed, grabbed a lifeline when substitute Pavel Solomin
pulled one back with eight minutes left, but they were unable to
covert pressure into more goals and paid the price.
Uzbek coach Rauf Inileyev bemoaned his team's lack of
fortune in front of goal but refused to be drawn on Maksim
Shatskikh's disallowed strike.
'I never blame referees after the game as everyone can make
mistakes, so today I think we were just unlucky,' Inileyev told
a news conference.
He said the four teams left in the competition - South
Korea, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Iraq - were all very strong and
it was too close who were favourites to win the title.
Saudi coach Helio Cesar dos Anjos fiercely rejected
suggestions his team had been fortunate and said they had
created as many chances as the opposition.
'It was an open game, like a final, and we weren't lucky,'
'The goals we scored we practiced in training, that's why we
deserved to win.'
The game got off to an electric start with a goal after only
Abdulrahman Al Qahtani surged down the wing and delivered a
vicious low cross which Uzbek keeper Ignatiy Nesterov got to,
but could not hold and the rebound fell kindly to Saudi striker
Yasser Al Qahtani, who scored from 12 yards.
Uzbekistan's Server Djeparov lashed a shot against the base
of the post before dangerous Dynamo Kiev striker Shatskikh
followed up a free-kick to hammer the ball home from close
However, the linesman flagged him for offside - a decision
TV replays suggested was wrong.
Uzbekistan picked up where they left off after the break and
Aziz Ibragimov went close with a header that hit the underside
of the bar.
The Saudis threatened on the counter and 15 minutes from the
end scored an excellent second to make it 2-0.
Substitute Al Mousa strode onto a clever return pass from Al
Qahtani in the box and clipped the ball home.
Uzbekistan made it 2-1 with eight minutes left to set up an
exciting finale. Hayrulla Karimov nodded the ball off the bar
from a free-kick and Solomin steered it over the line.
Amazingly, the Uzbeks almost equalised with their next
attack but Alexander Geynrikh's fierce drive again cannoned back
off a post.
Chances were created at both ends until the final whistle,
but it was the Saudis who were celebrating at the end.