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Uzbekistan beats Saudi Arabia to reach Asian Cup quarters

By Reuters - Jan 18,2015 - Last updated at Jan 18,2015

MELBOURNE — Uzbekistan beat Saudi Arabia 3-1 on Sunday to leapfrog its opponents and advance to the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup as runners-up of Group B.

Attacking midfielder Sardor Rashidov, one of the five players brought in to the starting line-up after Uzbekistan lost to China on Wednesday, scored twice while substitute Vokhid Shodiyev also netted.

Saudi Arabia, who would have advanced to the knockout phase with a win or a draw, drew level at 1-1 when Mohammed Al Sahlawi converted a penalty in the 60th minute but the Green Falcons bowed out of the tournament by giving up two late goals.

Uzbekistan, semifinalists at the last Asian Cup in 2011, will play Group A winners South Korea in Melbourne on Thursday, with the coach of the Central Asian team saying there would be a “a big holiday in Uzbekistan now”.

“It was one of the great winning games,” Mirdjalal Kasimov told reporters. “It was great because our players, they have done everything.”

China, who topped the Group B standings with three wins, faces the host-nation Australia in Brisbane the same night.

China was already assured of top spot after upsetting Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan and finished the group stage with a 2-1 win over North Korea in Canberra on Sunday in a match played simultaneously as the Melbourne fixture.

With North Korea out of contention, the match was effectively a dead rubber but China coach Alain Perrin resisted the temptation to rest all of his best players, saying it was more important to continue building momentum.

“Australia as the host team will be very difficult for us,” Perrin said. “But we’ve got a new record for Chinese football — we’ve got nine points.”

Right-winger Sun Ke, who came on as a substitute and scored the winner in China’s 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan, celebrated his promotion to the starting side by scoring both his teams goals in the first half.

He netted the first in the opening minute then his second three minutes before the interval. China gave one back when Gao Lin in the second half but held on for the win.

“Our matches were not satisfactory,” North Korean coach Jo Tongsop said. “I think this is a very valuable experience for the whole team.”

Rashidov scored Uzbekistan’s opening goal within 90 seconds of the start, firing the ball through the legs of Saudi goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia, who won the last of its three Asian Cup titles in 1996, levelled after the break with a hotly disputed penalty when Vitaliy Denisov and Naif Hazazi got tangled up and fell as a cross was coming in.

But Shodiev came off the bench and restored the White Wolves’ lead in the 72nd minute with a header before Rashidov banged in his second 11 minutes from time.

“It’s disappointing for me, for everyone,” Saudi Arabia coach Cosmin Olaroiuhe said. “When you make mistakes like we did today sometimes you pay a price and the price was qualification.”

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