Uzbeks stun hosts Qatar in Asian Cup opener

AFP, Friday 7 Jan 2011

Odil Akhmedov and Server Djeparov shattered Qatari dreams with second-half goals to hand Uzbekistan a 2-0 win over the hosts in the opening game of the Asian Cup on Friday

Uzbekistan's player Odil Ahmedov celebrates with his teammates after he scored against Qatar

Central defender Akhmedov bagged the first goal of the tournament when he sent a looping 30-yard shot crashing off the underside of the bar and into the net in the 58th minute.

Captain Djeparov sealed the win 18 minutes later when he made the most of a sloppy back pass by Ibrahim Majed, firing the ball past goalkeeper Qasem Burhan.

The football festival, featuring the region's top 16 teams, runs for three weeks up to the final on January 29 with the opening match played at the Khalifa Stadium, the 40,000-capacity jewel in Qatar's footballing crown.

And the fans turned out en masse for the near sell-out Group A game as the tiny country looks to prove itself after being controversially awarded the 2022 World Cup.

The home team came into the game with plenty to prove -- their previous best Asian Cup showing was a quarter-final exit at the hands of China in 2000.

In their six other appearances -- including one as hosts in 1988 -- they have failed to progress beyond the group phase.

They quickly signalled their intentions with Brazil-born midfielder Fabio Cesar getting the first chance of the game, steering a header wide after a probing cross by Hussain Yaser.

But they started giving the Uzbeks too much space and Alexander Geynrikh broke free of his marker to rattle the post barely a minute later.

The Qatari back line was ragged and Geynrikh again burst free to find Jasur Khasanov in the six-yard box, with the speedy winger's shot forcing a scrambled save from Burhan.

Uzbekistan may not have made their Asian Cup debut until 1996, but they have improved with each participation.

Eliminated in the group phase on their competition debut 15 years ago, the Central Asian heavyweights suffered the same fate four years later but have since reached the quarter-finals at successive tournaments.

Playing in perfect 22 degrees Celsius conditions, they displayed their emerging pedigree, with the home fans not having much to shout about in the opening 20 minutes.

Khasanov should have put Uzbekistan in front on 18 minutes when he found himself in acres of space, only to take a touch too much and angle his shot wide of the post.

Uzbekistan were dominating possession and Qatar barely got a look in until seven minutes before half-time when Cesar curled a left-footed freekick round the wall and onto the post.

It sparked Bruno Metsu's team into life and they went to the break with their confidence on the rise.

They came back out fired up and Hussain had a glorious chance to break the deadlock soon after the restart when the ball fell to him in the box, but his shot was weak and easily cleared.

It got the crowd going but they were soon silenced when Akhmedov smashed in his goal and when Djeparov got the second thousands started leaving early, leaving the stadium half-empty for an embarrassing end to the game.

The other two Group A teams, China and Kuwait, face each other on Saturday.

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