|Hello Hanoi: Saudi Arabian players celebrate
their progress [AFP]
Striker Yasser Al Qahtani scored one goal and created a second as Saudi Arabia held on to beat Uzbekistan 2-1 and progress to the Asian Cup semifinals.
The three-time Asian Cup winners appeared to have sealed the victory on 72 minutes after Ahmed al Mousa made it 2-0, but had to withstand a late Uzbekistan rally that saw substitute Pavel Solomin pull one back and Alexander Geynrikh hit the post.
The victory means Saudi Arabia will play Japan on Wednesday in Hanoi, Vietnam for a place in the final.
The Arabian side has lost against Japan in all three of its Asian Cup meets so far, including finals in 1992 and 2000.
“We are out to change that record,” Saudi Arabia coach Brazilian Helio Cesar dos Anjos said.
“We respect them (Japan) very much, but we are not scared of them.”
Saudi Arabia, which topped Group D after winning two matches and drawing one, took the lead on two minutes in the Gelora Bung Karno stadium with Yasser Al Qahtani’s third goal of the tournament.
The striker, nicknamed the ‘sniper’, blasted a close-range shot in at the far post after Uzbek goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov failed to hold on to a cross from Abdulrahman Al Qahtani.
Uzbekistan almost equalized two minutes later when midfielder Server Djeparov hit the post with a long-range effort, the first in a string of good first-half chances the team created as it pushed for an equalizer.
On 20 minutes, Uzbekistan captain Maksim Shatskikh had the goal in the back of the net, but was the linesman flagged for offside.
|Heli Cesar dos Anjos with a jubilant cheer [AFP]|
“Today the god of football was not on our side,” Uzbekistan coach Rauf Inileyev said.
“We had a goal disallowed and hit the bar five times. Both teams had a good game, but we were unlucky.”
Saudi Arabia continued to look dangerous on the break and almost got a second with just over 30 minutes gone, but Yasser Al Qahtani shot inches past the right post after being put through on goal.
“I don’t think we had luck,” dos Anjos said.
“They had chances, but we too had a lot of opportunities. It was an open game and we deserved to win.”
Turning the screws
Three minutes into the second half, Shatskikh came desperately close to scoring, but his powerful downward header bounced up to hit the underside of the bar.
As the half progressed, Saudi Arabia gradually turned the screw on the central Asians, creating two good chances before Ahmed al Mousa fired home after picking up a threaded pass by Yasser Al Qahtani in a crowded penalty area.
Uzbekistan, which has yet to make it past the quarterfinals stage of the competition, never gave up and in a frantic 10 minute spell that almost forced the game into extra time.
Substitute Pavel Solomin scored from close range to cut the margin to one.
With five minutes to go, substitute Alexander Geynrikh turned neatly in the box but saw his shot hit the goal post.