January 30 – Uzbekistan secured a spot in the last eight of the Asian Cup following a routine 2-1 victory over Thailand, the last south-east Asian country in competition.
The Uzbeks had few problems in dispatching the Thais, who sat back and offered little attacking threat and never looked like chasing the game despite a flourish in the second half.
For the second time in a row, Thailand exited in the round of 16 and will be left to wonder what could have been if they had applied some more attacking enterprise.
Thailand manager Masatada Ishii fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Supachai Jaided operating as the lone striker, while his counterpart Srecko Katanec rotated four players from the draw with Australia, opting for a 5-2-3 formation that saw the Uzbeks dominate in a slow-burning match.
Pressing high, the Central Asians carved through the Thai defence early doors following a double pass between Jaloliddin Masharipov and Oston Urunov but the latter miscued his finish completely.
Thailand looked on the verge of capitulating and Urunov created more havoc but lifted his attempt over. Masharipov then drove low at goal, prompting a good save from Patiwat Khammai.
Uzbekistan soon took total command and the flurry of chances became a siege with Masharipov twisting and turning before releasing a tame shot.
The Thai sat deep in numbers, their primary objective of reaching the knockout stages having been accomplished. But against Uzbekistan it felt as if they were making up the numbers, struggling to absorb the pressure and failing to spring the counter.
Just as Thailand seemed to have weathered the worst of the storm, Uzbekistan got their deserved lead with a superb strike from Azizbek Turg’unboyev in the 37th minute. The number 19 controlled Diyor Kholmatov’s beautiful diagonal on his chest before finishing cooly.
The Uzbeks kept combining through the centre, time and again troubling the Thai rearguard and perhaps should have had a second before the pause, but Kholmatov curled his attempt inches wide.
It had all been one-way traffic in the first half with no fewer than 10 shots from the Uzbeks. Thai manager Ishii responded by bringing on Suphanat Supachok as an extra striker for the men in blue and his introduction paid dividends, providing more tenacity in the final third.
And in the 57th minute he stunned the Uzbeks with a gorgeous curling finish from outside the box following a one-two with Jaided.
Thailand’s joy was short-lived, however. Eight minutes later, Katanec’s side restored their advantage through a fine strike from 20-year-old winger Abbosbek Fayzullaev, who got away from his marker all too easily.
This time there was no coming back for the Thais as Uzbekistan kept their opponents at arm’s length with ease and lurked on the counter.
In the final 10 minutes, with their Asian Cup hopes about to end, Thailand at last threw the kitchen sink at their adversaries but came no further than a meek freekick and a header from Elias Dolah.
While they were perhaps the most mature team of the Southeast Asian quartet at the tournament, against Uzbekistan they were found wanting across the pitch.
In the stands, Qatar’s manager Tintin Marquez watched on and what he saw will have pleased and frightened him in equal measure as the host nation and defending champions prepare to meet the robust Uzbeks at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
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