Qualifiers - Group F: Uzbekistan flex muscles, Saudi Arabia edge Afghanistan
Al Khobar: Uzbekistan outclassed India, while Saudi Arabia narrowly beat Afghanistan as Group F of AFC U-19 Championship 2020 Qualifiers began at Prince Saud Bin Jalawi Stadium on Wednesday.
Two second-half goals helped Uzbekistan to a 2-0 success, while Saudi Arabia relied on an Ahmed Mazen Alghamdi penalty to secure a 1-0 win in their match.
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Uzbekistan 2-0 India
Fresh from a South Asian title in September, India approached the fixture with optimism, but regular AFC U-19 Championship attendees Uzbekistan kept Pinto Floyd’s side pinned inside their own half for much of the opening period.
But, despite their territorial dominance and a succession of corner kicks, Otabek Gulyamkhodjaev’s charges weren’t able to generate as many clear-cut chances as they would have hoped, while a miss from Vikram Partap served as a reminder of India’s threat at the opposite end of the pitch.
India made it to the interval without conceding, but it took just eight second half minutes for Uzbekistan to make the breakthrough, with Jasurbek Jaloliddinov given ample to time to pick out Khoshimov, who made no mistake from within the six-yard box.
Uzbekistan’s points were effectively safe when they doubled the lead 12 minutes later, with Olimjonov evading the attention of the Indian defence to poke home a corner kick on the volley from just four yards out.
India’s qualification hopes now hinge on an improved result against Saudi Arabia on Friday, while Uzbekistan will look to continue their strong start when they meet Afghanistan.
Saudi Arabia 1-0 Afghanistan
Group hosts Saudi Arabia prevailed in their opening match against Afghanistan, ultimately earning a 1-0 win in a hard-fought clash in Al Khobar.
Ahmed Mazen Alghamdi’s penalty five minutes into the second half proved decisive in a match where both sides struggled to create consistent scoring opportunities.
Saudi Arabia came into the clash not only as group hosts but also as reigning Asian champions in this age group, while Afghanistan haven’t appeared in the Continental Finals since 1978.
As a result, the Green Falcons were expected to overcome their visitors, but Afghanistan showed tremendous commitment, particularly in defence, to largely prevent Bandar Khalid Basrayh’s side from threatening their goal prior to half-time.
But the pendulum swung Saudi Arabia’s way when Afghanistan’s Sajad Ali Khalili fouled Hussain Khalid Al Sibyani while the latter was storming towards goal, giving referee Kim Dae-yong little choice but to award a penalty.
Al Ghamdi sent goalkeeper Had Ali Zada the wrong way to comfortably convert the spot-kick and put Saudi Arabia 1-0 up, and it was the Saudi forward who had a great chance to seal the win in the 70th minute, but his effort on that occasion went straight into Zada’s arms.
Afghanistan didn’t give up on finding an equaliser until the final whistle, but Al Ghamdi’s spot-kick proved pivotal, putting the defending champions on track for a return to the AFC U-19 Championship.
Tajikistan have already qualified as Group C winners while Group G kicked off on Saturday. Group A of the Qualifiers - featuring Iraq, Oman, Palestine, Kuwait and Pakistan - has been postponed with new dates to be announced in due course.
The 11 group winners and four best runners-up will join hosts Uzbekistan in the 2020 Finals.
Should Uzbekistan finish either top of Group F of the Qualifiers or are among the best four second-placed teams, the fifth best runners-up will qualify.
Photos: Saudi Arabian Football Federation
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