Djeparov fires Uzbeks towards Asian Cup quarters

Doha: A thunderbolt from captain Server Djeparov gave Uzbekistan a 2-1 win over Kuwait that took them to the brink of the Asian Cup last eight here on Wednesday and left Kuwait on the verge of elimination.

Djeparov cracked home a first-time shot from 20 yards in the 65th minute to continue Uzbekistan`s 100 percent record in Group A after the 2-0 defeat of Qatar in their group opener.

Uzbekistan had taken the lead shortly before half-time when Azizbek Haydarov inadvertently diverted a Maksim Shatskikh free-kick past the Kuwait goalkeeper, with Bader Al Mutwa levelling from the penalty spot.

Victory means Uzbekistan need just a point from their final group game against China on Sunday to reach the quarter-finals, while they will go through if Qatar fail to beat China in Wednesday`s late game.

In front of over 18,000 empty seats at the Al Gharafa Stadium, Kuwait started with purpose and twice threatened to take an early lead.

Uzbekistan goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov did well to save from Fahad Al Enezi after racing to the edge of his box inside the first minute, while Walied Ali clipped a shot narrowly wide moments later.

Gradually, however, Uzbekistan began to assume control ofmidfield, and Odil Akhmedov headed over from point-blank range in the eighth minute following a sweeping one-touch move.

Uzbekistan opened the scoring in the 41st minute and the breakthrough stemmed from the right foot of veteran Shatskikh, whose goal-bound effort clipped Haydarov`s back to wrong-foot Nawaf Al Khaldi in the Kuwaiti goal.

Kuwait coach Goran Tufegdzic sent on Hamad Nayef at half-time and the striker had an immediate impact.

Having headed inches over the bar from Fahad Awad`s left-wing centre moments after coming on, Nayef then won a penalty when he tripped over under pressure from Anzur Ismailov on the perimeter of the Uzbek box.

Al Mutwa held his nerve to place the ball into the bottom-right corner, sparking the Kuwaiti fans into song after Haydarov`s goal had silenced them.

Parity reigned for just over 15 minutes, however, and if Uzbekistan`s opener had been slightly fortunate, their second goal owed everything to the ball-striking ability of Djeparov.

Uzbekistan had been on the back foot since conceding the equaliser, but when substitute Jasur Khasanov picked out Djeparov just outside the box, the captain let fly with a fine first-time shot that flashed into the net.

Substitute Ahmad Ajab spurned Kuwait`s best chance to equalise, volleying well over the bar from six yards after Al Mutwa picked him out with a raking ball from the right flank.

Al Enezi also drew a finger-tip save from Nesterov with a powerful effort from the edge of the box as the game ticked into injury time.

Bureau Report