Uzbekistan booked their place in the Asian Cup quarter-finals after playing out
an entertaining draw with China at Al Gharafa Stadium.
The Central Asians needed just a point to progress but fell behind after six
minutes to Yu Hai's header. Odil Akhmedov's second goal of the tournament drew
Uzbekistan level before Alexander Geynrikh's strike gave them the lead shortly
after the interval.
However, China equalised through Schalke midfielder Hao Junmin's superb
free-kick but could not find the goal they needed to keep alive their last eight
hopes as Qatar's 3-0 win over Kuwait saw the hosts progress instead.
Uzbekistan should have gone in front after just two minutes when Server
Djeparov played in Timur Kapadze and his low cross picked out an unmarked Maksim
Shatskikh at the far post but with the goal at his mercy, he sliced horribly
The miss was to prove costly four minutes later when from a short corner
routine, Yang Hao's cross was met by Yu and his glancing header hit the
unfortunate Akhmedov and squeezed over the line.
China almost doubled their lead in the 21st minute but Zhao Xuri's swerving
25-yard drive crashed back off the bar with keeper Ignatiy Nesterov well
Uzbekistan equalised on the half-hour mark when Djeparov's beautiful
defence-splitting pass picked out Akhmedov's run down the left edge of the area
and he beat Yang Zhi with a composed finish from six yards.
China nearly regained their advantage six minutes later when Gao Lin met Hao's
perfectly flighted cross with a powerful header, but keeper Nesterov brilliantly
tipped the ball over the bar.
Geynrikh then gave his side the lead at the start of the second-half when he
found the back of the net with a strike from distance but China drew level in
the 56th minute when Hao fired a fine free-kick from 25 yards that dipped into
the top corner.
Gao then saw a stooping header from Wang Song's cross bounce wide when unmarked
near the penalty spot, before the same player forced Nesterov into a sharp
reflex save after he turned a defender and fired a powerful snap-shot goalwards
as China were unable to find the winner they craved.
Uzbekistan coach Vadim Abramov saluted his players after seeing his side qualify for the Asian Cup quarter-finals as Group A winners following a 2-2 draw with China at Al Gharafa Stadium.
"I want to thank my players because they played very well in the group games. The result was satisfactory for us, which is why we played more defensively today," said Abramov
"I don't think we were lucky. We played very well and had many chances to score, for example when (Maksim) Shatskikh could not score in the opening minutes. I think many things depend on the psychology of the players. The last two games against Qatar and Kuwait were very hard and very tough games against two strong teams."
They will now face either Japan, Jordan or Syria in the knockout stage but Abramov was more concerned about the quality of his side's defending.
"I don't care who we play in the next round," he added. "The defence hasn't played so well, too many mistakes and now I have some time before the next game so I will see what I can do."
Despite their early exit, China assistant boss Fu Bo said the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011 had proved invaluable to a team building towards qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
"We've learned a lot from these two matches. Today we had many chances but we lacked a little luck. If we solved the problem of our wayward shooting, maybe we could have changed the result," he said.
"But you can see during the match, everyone stood up and everyone tried to change the result.
"Since this team got together, we have been focusing on qualifying for the World Cup. Now we end our journey in the Asian Cup but we have played three different matches and have had three different results. They were very good practice for our young players."
"I think our team did very well in this Asian Cup and got great experience but the result shows that we need to do a lot of work in the future."