China stun Uzbekistan to reach Asian Cup football quarters
Melbourne, Jan 14 (IANS): A stunning curling winner from Sun Ke Wednesday ensured China a quarter-final berth in Asian Cup football for the first time since 2004.
With a right-footed shot, Sun's expert finish from 20 yards was enough for China to beat Uzbekistan 2-1 in Brisbane and maintain their perfect record at this year's Asian Cup, reports Xinhua.
The Uzbeks will face Saudi Arabia for the other quarter-final spot after the Saudi's 4-1 victory over North Korea here earlier in the night.
Sun's goal had the Brisbane crowd amazed as he commanded midfield, stopped, propped and wound the winner past the Uzbek defence from outside the box in the 68th minute.
It was, not by choice, left untouched by the diving Uzbek goalkeeper, Ignatiy Nesterov.
Chances for a third goal went begging despite Wu Lei finding himself one-on-one with Nesterov, and Zhang Linpeng missing a great chance from directly in front of the six-yard box.
The Sun goal came soon after China's first, a redeeming equaliser by Wu Xi into a goal unguarded by the wayward Uzbek keeper.
But it was the deft back flick from a leaping Gao Lin that earned the 55th-minute goal.
Wu was recipient of an open goal when Uzbek goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov bizarrely followed a cross out of his six-yard box.
Jiang Zhipeng's kick from left field was well long but Nesterov ventured from his right post.
Nesterov's crucial misjudgement was magnified when beaten to the ball by Wu Lei whose short kick to playmaker Gao saw him leap into the air for back kick from the outside of his foot, setting up Wu perfectly.
Earlier, Odil Ahmedov's long-range shot took a cruel deflection off Wu Xi and made defending it impossible for goalkeeper Wang Dalei.
Ahmedov, fond of taking speculative shots from far outside the box, saw his 25-yard grounded effort leap over all defenders and dip into the right bottom corner after careering off Chinese midfielder Wu Xi's leg.
Yellow-carded centre-back Mulladjanov was cautiously substituted at half-time to ensure the key defender will be available for the crucial final game.
In Melbourne, North Korea's first goal in 23 years at the Asian Cup finals was not enough to hold off a slow-starting Saudi Arabia, who won 4-1.
Korea's brilliant first 30 minutes was not enough to hold back the class of the Saudi side, whose striker Naif Hazazi narrowly missed out on the tournament's first hat-trick.
Having scored twice either side of half-time to reignite a sluggish Saudi Arabia, Hazazi found himself one-on-one with the Korean goalkeeper. He fired the shot that narrowly missed the left post.
Earlier, Mohammed al-Sahlawi made no mistake from six yards to score Saudi's second, when a cross off Korean defender Jang Song Hyok fell his unguarded path.
Sahlawi made it 3-1 two minutes after when an embarrassing miscommunication between J. Song Hyok and goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk on the edge of the box saw a clearance smack into the Saudi striker, who easily scored his second from point-blank range.
Luck was again against the Korean shot-stopper, who deflected a 80th-minute penalty into the left post only for the ball to trickle along the line into the left post where penalty-taker Nawaf Alabid beat the sliding keeper to score the Saudi's fourth.
Earlier, Korea caught their Saudi opponents by surprise, kicking off with aggressive, fast football.
A superb, powerful shot from 15 yards by star striker Pak Kwang Ryong was kept out by Waleed Abdullah but the Saudi keeper could do nothing as Ryang Yong Gi swiftly half-volleyed the rebound into the back of the net.
From there, the composure from Korea was lost and the Saudis moved a class above to keep their quarter-final chances alive.
A loss to Korea Sunday in Canberra will still see China through on head-to-head records. They will meet the loser of Saturday's clash between host nation Australia and South Korea.