Australia 0 (4) Uzbekistan 0 (2)
January 21 – Defending champions Australia laboured to a 4-2 spot-kick win over Uzbekistan after an underwhelming goalless draw to ensure a place in the last eight of the Asian Cup. Goalkeeper Matthew Ryan and substitute Mathew Leckie starred in the penalty shout out.
The Uzbeks have proved a surprise package in this tournament and from the start broke with pace with Eldor Shomurodov, their main marksman, going one on one with Matthew Ryan after easing his way past Trent Sainsbury, but shot straight at Ryan’s body. Australia’s number 20 was returning to his side from a one-game suspension, the only change Graham Arnold made from the team that beat Syria 3-2.
Shomurodov covered huge amounts of ground and the Socceroos struggled against Hector Cuper’s well organised team. Sainsbury had a torrid time against Shomurodov who he couldn’t match for speed.
Javokhir Sidikov caused Australia problems on the right and through the middle and nearly gave his country the lead with a clean hit that whistled past the left-hand post.
The Uzbeks used the space out wide well creating room for Dostonbek Khamdamov who blasted a good chance off target.
On the touchline Aussie coach Graham Arnold cut a nervous figure as his charges had little response to Uzbekistan’s dynamism. Tom Rogic, Australia’s creative force, was booked harshly for a slight brush with an Uzbek midfielder, who then feigned injury.
At the half the Australians were firmly in the passenger seat. Arnold didn’t change his personnel, keeping Mathew Leckie, returning from two months out with a hamstring injury, as an ace up his sleeve.
The Socceroos were awakening from their slumber and started to show more urgency coming closest to getting the opening goal through Rhyan Grant’s consecutive headers which narrowly missed the target.
With his team needing to change things up, Arnold replaced Awer Mabil, who had scored two goals in two games, with Leckie.
His impact was immediate. He stole the ball in midfield, worked it with Rogic, whose meek effort was never going to beat veteran Ignatiy Nesterov, despite the incoming Jamie Maclaren almost getting a touch on the ball.
With the Socceroos galvanised, Cuper reacted by bringing on Ikromjon Alibaev for Sidikov, who had remained largely anonymous in the second half.
Uzbekistan were now riding their luck. Had they run out of energy after a dominant first half? Leckie teed up Rogic, but his shot was tipped into a corner by Nesterov. It was a matter of hanging on until the prolongations for Cuper’s team, despite almost nicking a winner against the run of play.
In extra time Australia continued on the front foot as Uzbekistan looked out of both legs and ideas. Rogic had an effort blocked by Nesterov, who then gathered a tame shot from Leckie. The Australians had a lot of build-up play, but not enough quality to pick holes in the Uzbek’s defense. And so to spot kicks.
Ryan proved the key for Australia with two crucial saves and substitute Leckie converted the Socceroos’ fifth spot kick to give Arnold’s a 4-2 win. They will need to improve markedly if they want to keep their title defense going.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1560777353labto1560777353ofdlr1560777353owedi1560777353sni@o1560777353fni1560777353