Uzbekistan are on the verge of sealing their place in the quarter-finals of the
Asian Cup following victory over Kuwait at Al Gharafa Stadium.
Maksim Shatskikh's 41st-minute free-kick took a big deflection off Azizbek
Hayadarov to give the Uzbeks the lead but Kuwait hit back four minutes into the
second half with a Bader Al Mutawa penalty.
However, Server Djeparov's 65th-minute strike sealed Uzbekistan's second win in
Group A and means they are within touching distance of a place in the last 16.
Kuwait had started brightly and were the first to threaten after five minutes
when Yaqoub Al Taher cut the ball back into the area from the byline but Walied
Ali could only drive his shot wide of the post.
Odil Ahmedov then had a chance for Uzbekistan soon after but he contrived to
head over the bar when found unmarked by Sanjar Tursunov six yards from goal.
But after that chances were at a premium and it seemed the game would remain
goalless at half-time, only for Uzbekistan to claim the lead four minutes before
the break courtesy of a deflected goal.
The Central Asians were awarded a free-kick just outside the area and Shatskikh
drove an effort goalwards but the ball struck team-mate Haydarov to deflect
beyond a bemused Nawaf Al Khaldi in the Kuwait goal.
Kuwait boss Goran Tufegdzic opted to change things around at half-time,
bringing on Hamad Nayef, and the substitute made an almost immediate
Nayef received the ball just inside the area and attempted to turn Anzur
Ismailov, who hauled down the forward and the referee pointed to the spot. Al
Mutawa stepped up to coolly convert the penalty.
The game opened up after that with both sides forging chances, but it was the
Uzbeks who regained the lead in the 65th minute when Djeparov drove a powerful
shot from outside the box into the back of the net.
Kuwait pushed for an equaliser in the closing stages and twice almost leveled
through Ahmad Ajab and Yousef Naser but Uzbekistan held firm to seal the
Uzbekistan coach Vadim Abramov said he was confident his side are showing all the qualities
needed to be Asian Cup champions following their 2-1 victory over Kuwait.
Abramov's side would have sealed their place in the last eight had Qatar failed to beat China later the same day, but as it was the hosts won 2-0 to ensure the battle to qualify from Group A remains wide open.
"Every team at this tournament is very strong and I hope the quality of the football does not get less,'' Abramov said.
"I think we can cause some surprises and I hope Uzbekistan will be champion in this tournament, but there are many other good teams here so it will be difficult, but I hope it will be Uzbekistan.''
Abramov had hoped to be in a position to be able to rest players in Uzbekistan's final group game against China but will now need to assess his options, with a draw or a victory against the East Asians necessary to cement a place in the quarter-finals.
"We must look at the next game and think because some players have yellow cards so we must check our situation,'' he said. "I have a plan to play China. But first I need to check the situation.''
Despite the defeat Kuwait still have a chance, albeit slim, to snatch a top-two finish in the group and progress to the knock-out stage.
But whatever happens in their final group game against Qatar, coach Goran Tufegdzic felt his players have done themselves proud in Doha.
"Our team lost this match but we have one match remaining against Qatar. Our target is to win that match and pick up our first three points of the tournament,'' said the Serbian.
"Maybe my players need more experience but what can you do, these things happen and one thing is for sure is that these players have a good future.''