Uzbekistan cruised to a 3-1 win over Saudi Arabia on Sunday to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2015 Asian Cup.
The unseasonably cold affair at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium kicked off with a bang when Sardor Rashidov needed less than two minutes to barrel his way past the Saudi defence and send a low shot straight through goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah’s legs.
Shukhraat Mukhammadiev missed a fantastic opportunity to double the lead in the 11th minute when he blasted what appeared to be a wide-open shot far past the goal.
Saudi Arabia rarely ventured deep into the Uzbek end in the first 20 minutes as the Central Asian side, backed by spirited active support, dominated possession and chances.
But sloppy control by both teams allowed the Saudis to find their rhythm, though they failed to fire a shot on goal compared to Uzbekistan’s four before the halftime whistle.
The beginning of the second half saw little change; Saudi Arabia’s Naif Hazazi barrelled his way through the White Wolves’ defence in the 50th minute but his shot sailed over the goal.
Saudi Arabia at last earned their chance in the 59th minute when they were awarded a penalty kick following Vitaly Denisov’s foul in the box. Mohammad Al Sahlawi opted for a low-and-slow shot on the left side, beating out Ignatiy Nesterov to tie the game at 1-1.
Uzbekistan earned a free kick from just outside the area moments later as the match started to become more heated; a chance and potential goal was wasted thanks to Anzur Ismailov’s foul, and soon after captain Odil Akhmedov could be seen receiving a warning from the referee.
The hundreds of cheering fans in the Uzbekistan end were rewarded for their patience in the 71st minute when Shavkatjon Mulladjanov’s cross set up a fantastic header by substitute striker Vokhid Shodiev.
Just eight minutes later it was Rashidov with his second goal of the night, this time on a picture-perfect Uzbekistan counter which left the Saudis two goals down. Their hopes appeared to recede as much as those of their fans, who could be seen heading for the exits ahead of the final whistle.
Uzbekistan will play Group A winners South Korea in the quarterfinals on Thursday in Melbourne, in a replay of the third-place match at the 2011 Asian Cup which the Taeguk Warriors won 3-2.