Monday, July 23, 2007

Free-Scoring Uzbeks Eliminated

Free-Scoring Uzbeks Eliminated.
With the departure of co-hosts Indonesia, there has been a general feeling in Jakarta that the Asian Cup is as good as over. The city’s quarter-final clash between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan was not viewed with much enthusiasm by the locals who are quick to proclaim that they are the most passionate football fans in Asia.

They were doing the teams from west and central Asia a disservice. Between them they had scored an impressive 16 goals in the group stage, some of which came courtesy of what is necessary to succeed in tournaments – strikers in-form and scoring goals.

In the white corner was ‘The Sniper’, Yasser Al-Qahtani. The Al Hilal hero was on target twice in the group stage and is not a just a goalscorer but as he showed in the impressive 4-0 win over Bahrain, he also turns provider on occasion. Unusually for a Saudi player, there was talk that he could be heading to Europe in the not-too-distant future.

Over in the blue corner was Maksim Shatskikh. The steely-eyed Dinamo Kiev hitman missed the opening game defeat against Iran but made up for it with three goals in the next two games. In the past year or two, The 28 year-old has been linked in the past with such English teams as Wigan and West Brom but had chosen to stay with the Ukrainian giants –for whom he averages a goal every other game -and regular Champions league football.

In what was probably the most open and exciting game of the tournament so far, Shatskikh missed a hatful of chances, enough to shoot his team to the last four.

Before the striker had touched the ball however, Yasser Al Qahtani put the Saudis ahead after just three minutes.

Uzbekistan proceeded to hit the woodwork four times, have a goal ruled out for offside and miss a host of chances before Ahmed Al Mousa added a second with 15 minutes remaining. It wasn’t all one-way traffic as the Green Falcons had chances of their own in what was an end-to-end game.

The atmosphere never came close to matching even a fraction of what was generated by the 90,000 fans four days earlier when Indonesia took on South Korea in the final Group D match but there were a few thousand Saudi followers in the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. What neutrals there were seemed to be behind the Central Asian team.

Uzbekistan pulled a goal back through Pavel Solomin with eight minutes remaining and there was still time for Alexander Geynrikh to hit the base of the Arabian post with a full-blooded shot.

It wasn’t to be the Uzbeks night but the team certainly entertained in Kuala Lumpur as well as Jakarta and will be missed.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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