Asian Cup – Uzbekistan 3 Saudi Arabia 1: Uzbeks make the quarters


Roy Hay

Swapping the heat and humidity of Brisbane for a cool Melbourne evening when there was cricket at the MCG and football at the Rectangular stadium was a bit of a shock to the system. The crowd at the former was 34,253 bolstered by a huge contingent of Indian fans and there were 10,871 on the other side of Olympic Boulevard to watch two foreign teams—Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia—battle for a spot in the knockout stage of the Asian Cup. These figures can be interpreted in different ways. Cricket in Melbourne is three times as popular as soccer, or perhaps the latter code has attracted a five-figure crowd for a football match in which the only Australians taking part were the match officials— referee Ben Williams and his assistants Matthew Cream and Paul Cetrangolo!

A large and noisy group of Uzbekistan supporters led by drummers and instrument players kept up a one-word chant of the country’s name throughout the match. Members of the group held up one large banner sign in what appeared to be an anglified Cyrillic script, which I can’t quite reproduce here, and I would appreciate it if anyone can tell me what it meant. The Saudi contingent seemed smaller and more distributed through the crowd but they too were engaged when their team was on the ball.

In the last game the Saudis were overrun by North Korea in the first half hour, but recovered to win comfortably by four goals to one. This time they were stunned by an excellent goal inside two minutes. Sardor Rashidov sprinted down the right, slalomed past three defenders and finished from a narrow angle with a shot through the keeper’s legs. You could fault the Saudi keeper, Waleed Abdullah, though low shots close to the body are notoriously difficult to parry, but he did have a shaky first half, spilling a shot from Jamshid Iskanderov and being lucky to recover before an Uzbekistan player could put away the rebound.

The Saudis came more into the game as the half went on.Nawaf Alabid tested  Ignatiy Nestorov in the Ukrainian goal and then Salem Aldawasari and Nawaf butchered a free kick from a dangerous position. The game gradually turned into a midfield struggle with few clear chances at either end.

Early in the second half a good cross by Salem was deflected into the path of Naif Hazazi but he shot well over the bar, but then just short of the hour mark, Saudi Arabia got a penalty when Vitaliy Denisov brought down Hazazi. Al Sahlawi scored from the spot. Had the score remained at one-all Saudi Arabia would have qualified for the knock-out stage by virtue of a better goal difference, so Uzbekistan had to win and they did.

In the 72nd minute Shavkatjon Mulladjanov sent over a deep cross from the right and Vokhid Shodiev, who had only come on as a substitute six minutes earlier, did his Tim Cahill impression by leaping high to head an excellent goal. Seven minutes later Uzbekistan put the game beyond the Saudis’ reach when Rashidov converted a precise cross by Jasur Khasanov. Ben Williams played five minutes of extra time but the game ended in a three-one win to Uzbekistan, who will now meet South Korea in Melbourne on Thursday night.

In the meantime, Iran and the United Arab Emirates will battle for top spot in Group C in Brisbane tonight, while Bahrain and Qatar are allocated the biggest stadium of the tournament in Sydney for a dead rubber. That was a strange piece of scheduling by the organisers.

Next Japan will play Jordan at the rectangular stadium tomorrow (Tuesday) night in what will be another cracker of a game. Japan is the tournament favourite, but since Jordan scored five against Palestine they will go into the match with some confidence. The Jordanian coach is former England star Ray Wilkins, and he would love nothing more than an upset win. Even a win might not be enough since Iraq won the head-to-head match against Jordan, and that is the first discriminator if two teams finish on the same points total in the group stage. So the placings could be decided on goal difference.

The Worlds of Football Conference kicks off at the State Library tomorrow at 5.30 pm, so if you want to hear some academics talk about the game and what it means, you need to register at

-panel-discussion-registration The session ends at 7 pm, which will still give you time to get to the match.



  1. Dennis Gedling says

    They’re an interesting mob the Uzbeks. All look from completely different ethnic backgrounds, have a mysterious dictator and fervent support,. Have you managed to talk to any of the Uzbeks who attend? I’m interested to know if they are expats or just cashed up from oil and headed over. That drummer is better than John Bonham.

  2. Dennis I haven’t had a chance to talk to many of the Uzbeks so far apart from a brief word on trams, etc. You are spot on about the drummer and his chorus must have been in training for as long as the team. I suspect more than a few Victory folk joined in just for the hell of it and to demonstrate we can do it too.

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