Group A: Uzbekistan 1-0 China PR
Changzhou: Khojiakbar Alijonov’s first half strike proved the difference as Uzbekistan secured a vital and thrilling 1-0 win over China PR in Group A of the AFC U23 Championship 2018 on Friday.
The win leaves the Central Asians level with China on three points and, and with Qatar defeating Oman 1-0 in the day's second match, both teams can still genuinely harbour ambitions of sealing a spot in the quarter-finals with one game apiece still to play.
Uzbekistan, who made a raft of changes to their starting 11 in the wake of Tuesday’s defeat to Qatar, were the first to threaten on a chilly afternoon in Jiangsu province, Dostonbek Khamdamov whipping in a 10th minute free-kick that China goalkeeper Zhou Yuchen did well to gather at his near post.
Their fine early endeavours were though to be rewarded just four minutes later when defender Alijonov made the most of poor Chinese defending to fire a left footed shot across Zhou and into the far corner of the net.
China responded well to the setback, Gao Zunhyi seeing his firm header cleared off the line by Doniyorjon Narzullaev, and Wei Shihao having a shot smothered by Uzbekistan custodian Botirali Ergashev following fine work down the right by Ba Dun shortly after the half hour mark.
In the last meaningful action of an entertaining first half Ergashev then pulled off a superb flying save to push away Yao Junsheng’s headed attempt from a pinpoint Liu Yiming delivery.
China continued to press after the break, as Yang Liyu blazed over the bar when well placed, before substitute Tang Shi headed Li Shuai’s sublime cross narrowly wide of the target within six minutes of the restart.
With Uzbekistan defending resolutely, China duly struggled to find the goal they so desperately needed, Wei Shihao’s speculative effort from distance one of the few highlights for Massimiliano Maddaloni's charges.
As the clock ran down however, Ergashev gathered a fierce Tang drive and, much to the anguish of the home faithful, Wei thundered a shot against the woodwork on a day when Uzbekistan refused to relinquish their title hopes.
Uzbekistan will look to seal a place in the last eight when they tackle Oman in the final round of group stage matches on Monday, while China are scheduled to face Qatar.
Ravshan Khaydarov: Uzbekistan head coach
"I am very happy with the performance of my players today. I think that (after losing the opening game) we have now improved the difficult situation we found ourselves in. It was a very difficult game for us, but the most important thing today was that we scored first. China played some beautiful football during the match, but we had our tactical plan for today’s game."
Massimiliano Maddaloni: China head coach
"It was a pity that we lost this match. We tried many times to find an equaliser, but Uzbekistan really did limit our goalscoring chances. In the first half there were few opportunities, and after the break we changed our formation and tried to improve our attack but still could not find a goal."