2020 AFC U23 Championship: Uzbekistan issue statement of intent by crushing UAE

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Defending champions Uzbekistan awoke from their slumber at the 2020 AFC U23 Championship on Sunday by coming from behind to beat United Arab Emirates 5-1 at the Rajamangala Stadium.

It initially looked as though the Emiratis would continue their good form in the quarter-final and march on into the last four, as Zaid Al-Ameri gave them a 13th-minute lead with a clinical strike.

But a remarkable turnaround saw first-half strikes by Ilkhomjon Alianov, Islomjon Kobilov and Oybek Bozorov hand the Uzbeks the lead at the interval, before they went on to seal the triumph late on with further goals by Jasurbek Yakhshiboev and Nurillo Tukhtasinov.

AFC U23 Championship Highlights – United Arab Emirates vs Uzbekistan

The result means that, despite entering the knockout round as one of the four runners-up and facing a tough test against the Group D winners, it is the Uzbeks who march on to a semi-final meeting with Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

After two cagey affairs in Saturday’s last-eight ties, Sunday’s were in stark contrast starting with Korea Republic’s last-gasp 2-1 win over Jordan.

Inside the opening three minutes of the later kickoff, both teams had glorious opportunities to break the deadlock.

First, UAE winger Khalfan Hassan escaped his marker down the right and his shot was smartly saved by Abduvakhid Nematov with his foot, before Mohamed Al-Shamsi produced a fine stop to keep out a Bobir Abdixolikov header that had bounce awkwardly off the ground.

Nonetheless, in the 13th minute, the Emiratis duly opened the scoring when Al-Ameri was somehow allowed to run onto Majeed Suroor’s searching ball from the back despite three opponents being in close attendance, and the striker made no mistake in sending a clinical finish into the bottom corner.

It started off so well for United Arab Emirates.

Taking the lead was always going to bode well for a UAE outfit that had only conceded once in the group stage, but just three minutes later their defence was breached.

Having failed to wriggle his way free inside the area, Bozorov laid the ball back to the edge of the area and there appeared to be no real danger until Alianov decided to let fly with a first-time piledriver that flew past Al-Shamsi and in off the post.

The Video Assistant Referee – which has been a hot topic of conversation at the tournament – then made its now-regular appearance in the 20th minute when Bozorov was adjudged to have been brought down by Khalfan Hasan inside the box following a lengthy review, after the penalty had initially not been awarded.

As he has done twice already in the campaign, Uzbekistan captain Kobilov made no mistake from 12 yards as he drilled his spot-kick straight down the middle to hand his side a 26th-minute lead.

Buoyed by edging ahead, the White Wolves began to grow in confidence and could have added much more were it not for the heroics of Al-Shamsi.

UAE would have been dead and buried by halftime if not for Al-Shamsi.

He produced another brilliant save just three minutes later having parried a fierce drive by Abdixolikov upwards, before recovering well to push it away just as it was destined to creep in under the bar.

Still, there was little the UAE captain could do as Uzbekistan added a third four minutes before the break through a moment of brilliance from Bozorov, who – having been put under zero pressure 25 yards out from goal – proceeded to unleashing a stunning effort that swerved and dipped into the top corner with Al-Shamsi rooted to the spot.

The contest could even have been ended by halftime when Abdixolikov climbed high in first-half stoppage time to meet a Yakshiboev corner with a firm header, but Al-Shamsi once again came to the rescue with an outstanding reflex save from point-blank range.

In possession of a two-goal lead, Uzbekistan were happy to consolidate their strong position in the second half but were largely untroubled by a disconsolate UAE outfit.

In fact, it was Uzbekistan who looked the likelier to strike again on the counter and that did eventually come true with six minutes later on the clock.

With the opposition defence all over the place, Nurillo Tukhtasinov was able to poke a pass through to release Yakshiboev and he calmly slotted past the advancing Al-Shamsi.

And, in the third minute of injury-time, the remarkable rout was completed as Yakhshiboev was allowed to venture down the right far too easily and, although his cutback was missed by Abdixolikov, Tukhtasinov was on hand to slot home from close range as Uzbekistan kept alive their hopes of not only qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games, but also retaining the AFC U23 crown they memorably won two years ago.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Mohamed Al-Shamsi, Saeed Suwaidan, Khalifa Al-Hammadi, Mohammed Ali Shaker, Majed Rashed, Majed Suroor (Mohammed Al-Attas 46’), Yahia Nader (Yahya Al-Ghassani 71’), Khalfan Hasan (Jassem Yaqoub 46’), Abdullah Ramadan, Ali Saleh, Zaid Al-Ameri.

UZBEKISTAN: Abduvakhid Nematov, Khojiakbar Alijonov (Dilshod Saitov 88’), Islomjon Kobilov, Khusniddin Alikulov, Ilkhomjon Alianov, Azizjon Ganiev, Abdulla Abdullaev, Jasurbek Yakhshiboev, Oybek Bozorov (Nurillo Tukhtasinov 64’), Sanjar Kodirkulov (Doston Ibragimov 77’), Bobir Abdixolikov.