Birthday boy Wang Dalei's penalty stop helped China upset Saudi Arabia 1-0 as a string of top saves made all the difference in their Asian Cup match.
Uzbekistan also had their goalkeeper to thank as they beat North Korea 1-0, but the surprise result of the day belonged to China as they edged three-time winners Saudi Arabia in Brisbane courtesy of Yu Hai's deflected second-half free kick.
Just moments before the goal Wang, who was celebrating his 26th birthday, kept China in it when he dived to his left to save Naif Hazazi's tame penalty.
Victory put a huge smiles on the faces of Alain Perrin's China, who have never won the Asian Cup and will now be eyeing their first appearance in the knockout stages since hosting the tournament in 2004.
"Our tactics worked very well, we hit them on the counter-attack and caused a lot of trouble for our opponents," Perrin told reporters.
"The match was very, very difficult for us but we gained a lot of joy from it. We've been preparing for this tournament for a long time."
Uzbekistan relied heavily on goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov as they ground out a 1-0 win over unfancied North Korea in torrential rain.
Nesterov saw little action in the Group B tie but he was alert enough to acrobatically palm away Pak Kwang-Ryong's powerful header just before the final whistle.
Man-of-the-match Igor Sergeev's 62nd-minute header was the only score of a game hit by a mid-match downpour, but Uzbekistan deserved their win in Sydney.
Twice Asian player of the year Server Djeparov set up the goal as the 2011 semi-finalists showed they could be ready for another assault on the Asian Cup's latter stages.
"I'd like to thank our goalkeeper, it was a great save," said Uzbek coach Mirdjalal Kasimov. "But it was a victory of the whole team, I'm happy with all my players."