|A Qatari woman senses victory before kickoff but Qatar could struggle to reach the knockouts after losing 2-0 [AFP]
A stunning long-distance strike from Odil Akhmedov and a disastrous defensive error by a former Asian Player of the Year gave Uzbekistan a 2-0 win against hosts Qatar in the opening match of the Asian Cup in Doha.
Qatar looked unlikely challengers for a first Asian Cup trophy as they kicked off the tournament on home soil in scrappy fashion on Friday.
A match that will not have whet the appetite of many outside the two countries was watched by a near capacity crowd at the impressive 40,000-seater Khalifa Stadium – one of the venues that will host World Cup matches in 2022.
But the home support left in their droves nearly 15 minutes before the end after a terrible pass into his own box from substitute Khalfan Ibrahim – voted the continent's best player in 2006 – allowed Server Djeparov to slot home Uzbekistan's second goal.
It left the stadium, which had been packed with men in white thobes and women in black abayas at kickoff, drained of support as Qataris hit the exits to the sound of Uzbek drums in the away section.
"It's difficult to accuse Khalfan just because he made a mistake," Qatar's French coach Bruno Metsu said afterwards.
Group A - China, Kuwait, Qatar, Uzbekistan
Group B - Japan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria
Group C - Australia, Bahrain, India, South Korea
Group D - North Korea, Iran, Iraq, UAE
"He worked hard, he's young. Who doesn't make mistakes as a player? Nobody."
A bombastic opening ceremony under the Khalifa's giant central arch was followed by a first half of occasional adequacy and a single flash of inspiration, as Qatar's Brazilian-born playmaker Fabio Cesar hit the post with a free kick.
But it was Group A opponents Uzbekistan who deservedly took the lead just before the hour mark.
Midfielder Akhmedov strolled forward before unleashing a curling, dipping drive from 35 yards that evaded the glove of Qasem Burhan and crashed in off the underside of the bar.
Thirteen minutes before the end, Khalfan tried to find defender Bilal Mohammed with a pass that turned into a cross for Djeperov to apply a simple finish from the edge of the box.
Perhaps bruised rather than toughened by friendly matches against Egypt and North Korea, Qatar's defence was looking frail from the start and they could have gone behind twice in the first 10 minutes of the match.
Djeparov pulled back for Alexander Geynrikh to hit the post on seven minutes, before Jasur Khasanov's one-on-one effort was well smothered by Qasem at the far post.
Seven minutes before half time, a foul by Sakhob Juraev on Qatar's Uruguay-born striker Sebastian Soria won a free kick for the home side six yards outside the box.
Former Sao Paolo and Napoli midfielder Fabio Cesar curled his shot left-footed around the wall, but struck the post beyond the dive of Ignatiy Nesterov.
Four minutes into the second half, Soria beat Nesterov to a high ball before presenting Hussein Yasser, who played one League Cup match for Manchester City in 2005, with an open goal. But the ball was nipped away by a defender before the Zamalek striker could shoot.
Uzbekistan rode some late pressure from Qatar, with Khalfan trying to make some amends when his shot from outside the box was saved in injury time.
The defeat leaves Qatar bottom of the group ahead of Kuwait's match with China on Saturday.