Uzbekistan are one match away from reaching the Asian Cup semi-finals for the first time [AFP]

Uzbekistan virtually guaranteed an Asian Cup quarter-final spot when they beat Kuwait 2-1 thanks to a fine strike from former Asian Player of the Year Server Djeparov.

With the game locked at 1-1 with 25 minutes remaining and Kuwait threatening, Djeparov took advantage of space on the edge of the area to fire a first-time, left-foot shot which curled away from a diving Yaqoub Al Taher in the Kuwait goal.

The result on Wednesday put Uzbekistan on six points in Group A after their second win of the tournament and left Kuwait on the brink of an early exit.

"Our game is very good. I'm very happy we beat Kuwait today and I think we can make a surprise," coach Vadim Abramov said.

"If my team can qualify for the semi-finals that will be a very good result for us."

An entertaining second half was in marked contrast to a drab first, which was witnessed by just 3,481 fans at the 22,000-capacity Al Gharafa Stadium on another chilly early evening in Doha.

The Uzbeks enjoyed the best of the first-half, producing a number of neat, short passing moves but, lacking pace in attack, they came to nothing.

Fortunate circumstances

They took the lead, however, four minutes before the interval in fortunate circumstances when Maksim Shatskikh's 22-metre free kick took a big deflection off a teammate.

The 32-year-old struck a curling right-foot effort which struck the back of a ducking Azizbek Haydarov, who was making a nuisance of himself in the defensive wall, which diverted the ball past a befuddled Al Taher.

Kuwait equalised in the 48th minute after Walied Ali was brought down in the area and Bader Al Mutwa slotted home the penalty.

But Uzbekistan substitute Jasur Khasanov crossed to Djeparov, who was named Asia's best player in 2008, to hit the winner.

Kuwait stepped up the pressure and had several chances to equalise, the best when substitute Ahmad Ajab's close-range volley in the 81st minute was fired hopelessly over the net.

It was Kuwait's second straight loss after a 2-1 defeat to China in their first match, and the team needed a win to ensure they stayed in contention for a spot in the knockout stage, with only a win for Qatar in the later match against China being enough to keep Kuwait in the Asian Cup ahead of their last Group A match against the hosts.

"It's a very bad feeling after these two matches," said Kuwait coach Goran Tufegdzic.

"Our target was to qualify for the second round. But now, what can I do? It's football."

Source: Agencies