Sidorov the hero as Uzbekistan emerge champions
Changzhou: Substitute Andrey Sidorov struck in the final minute of extra-time to help Uzbekistan seal the AFC U23 Championship China 2018 title with a narrow 2-1 win over Vietnam on Saturday.
The striker was on hand to convert a Dostonbek Khamdamov corner with his first touch of the game, after a 1-1 draw had forced the game into an additional 30 minutes.
While Uzbekistan’s victory saw them add to the AFC U-16 Championship title they won in 2012, it also brought the curtain down on a remarkable Vietnam campaign, one which will live long in the memory of the Southeast Asian nation’s supporters.
In decidedly wintry conditions at the Changzhou Olympic Sports Center, it was Uzbekistan who controlled the early proceedings, and they duly took the lead on eight minutes when a poorly marked Rustamjon Ashurmatov headed home Khamdamov’s outswinging corner.
Uzbekistan continued to press after the breakthrough, as both a Javokhir Sidikov header and Khamdamov’s effort from 20 yards forced Vietnam goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung into smart saves.
Despite struggling to fully impose themselves on the game, Vietnam briefly threatened to restore parity shortly after the half hour mark when Pham Xuan Manh’s excellent cross narrowly eluded the onrushing Phan Vanh Duc and Nguyen Quang Hai.
However, after seeing Azizjon Ganiev fire narrowly over, Vietnam drew level on the stroke of half-time. Nguyen Cong Phuong was brought down on the edge of the area, and from the resulting free-kick Quang Hai superbly curled the ball past the despairing dive of Botirali Ergashev to register his fifth goal of the tournament.
After a delayed restart to allow a layer of snow to be removed from the pitch, Uzbekistan were the first to shine once again, this time Khamdamov stinging the palms of Tien Dung courtesy of a 48th minute long-range drive.
Moments later, Tien Dung, the hero of Vietnam’s semi-final win over Iraq, reacted well to deny Sidikov from six yards, before Uzbekistan captain Zabikhillo Urinboev fizzed a shot wide of the left-hand upright on 70 minutes.
In the last meaningful action of normal time, Urinboev could, and very possibly should, have won the match for the Central Asians, but the striker inexplicably lashed his attempt from eight yards over the bar after Tien Dung had parried Akramjon Komilov’s cross into his path.
Urinboev’s miss was to matter little in the end though, as Sidorov applied an expert finish to Khamdamov's last gasp corner at the end of additional time to seal the title for Uzbekistan and break Vietnamese hearts on a day of high drama.