A late double strike rescued Uzbekistan’s Asian Cupcampaign and ousted three-time champions Saudi Arabia Sunday as Sun Ke’s brace enhanced China’s growing reputation.
The Uzbeks were headed out at 1-1 in Melbourne before Vokhid Shodiev’s header and Sardor Rashidov’s second of the night steered them into the quarter-finals with a thrilling win.
The 2011 semi-finalists are now into a quarter-final against South Korea but the result condemns the Saudis, winners in 1984, 1988 and 1996, to a second straight group stage exit.
“I can’t say this is a big tragedy,” said Saudi caretaker coach Cosmin Olaroiu, pressed to explain the Gulf side’s recent fall from grace. “It is a big disappointment, but it’s too much to call it a tragedy.”
Away from the fireworks in Melbourne, Sun scored in just 45 seconds and then grabbed his third of the tournament as China beat North Korea 2-1 in Canberra to seal their best ever start.
Uzbekistan also made a lightning start and Saudi goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah was left red-faced when Rashidov raced clear and slotted through his legs in only the second minute.
The White Wolves needed a win to qualify behind China in Group B but there was dismay when referee Ben Williams pointed to the spot for a soft penalty on the hour-mark.
The Saudis had already missed twice from the spot but Mohammed Al Sahlawi made no mistake as he fired the equaliser which would have taken his team through.
But Shodiev rose for a brilliant headed goal to restore Uzbekistan’s lead, before Rashidov converted a terrific cross 11 minutes from time to secure the 3-1 win.
Tempers flared on the touchline as over-exuberant Uzbek substitutes danced for joy in front of the Saudi bench, bringing the game to an acrimonious close.
– ‘Very silly goal’ –
“Saudi Arabia will have to make changes and start building something solid for the future,” said Olaroiu, the Romanian manager of Dubai-based Al Ahli, hired on a part-time basis to lead the side through theAsian Cup.
“We conceded a very silly goal after one minute and that forced us to play a different way. Uzbekistan fought hard and deserved to go through.”
In Canberra, China were ahead after just 45 seconds — close to Thursday’s Asian Cup-record, 14-second goal by UAE’s Ali Mabkhout — when Sun raced through a static defence.
North Korean defender Jang Song-Hyok let an incoming high ball glance off his head and it fell perfectly for Sun, who jabbed it home with his right boot.
The North Korean rearguard were again at fault for Sun’s second, when a corner bounced in the six-yard box giving the unmarked midfielder an easy header at the back post.
But the Chollima (“Thousand-Mile Horse”) grabbed one back when Jong Il-Gwan’s shot ricocheted off Guangzhou Evergrande striker Gao Lin and into the net for an own goal.
The victory means China have won all three group games for the first time, earning a perfect nine points and a boost ahead of Thursday’s quarter-final with hosts Australia.
“Australia are a very strong team, they are the hosts and I’m sure the next match will be very difficult for us,” said Sun. “We just need to make sure we prepare well and stand tall.”
On Monday, Group C concludes with three-time winners Iran and UAE fighting it out for top spot — a position which makes them likely to dodge holders Japan in the last eight. – Agence France-Presse