Sharjah: Substitute Eldor Shomurodov struck a match-winner five minutes from full time to help 10-man Uzbekistan stun reigning Gulf champions Oman 2-1 in their Group F opener of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup on Wednesday.
Down to 10 men after a red card to defender Egor Krimets well into full-time injury period, Uzbekistan did well to soak in everything thrown at them by the Gulf champions to take maximum points for only their second win from the six times the two teams have met so far.
Uzbekistan opened the score in the 34th minute off a sweetly-struck free kick from captain Odil Akhmedov, while dominant Omanis got a much-needed equaliser through a nippy strike from substitute Muhsen Al Ghassani in the 73rd minute. Just when it looked like the two teams were headed towards splitting points, the 23-year-old Shomurodov — who plays for Rostov in Russia — popped up to accept Ikromjon Alibaev’s delivery in the 85th minute and place the ball past a sprawled Fayez Al Rashidi in the Oman goal.
“Oman is a very good team and they are the Gulf champions. They enjoyed ball possession, but we managed to play our game and got the goals when we wanted. We couldn’t cover all the spaces and that helped Oman to mount attacks and get an equaliser. I am pleased with the outcome and the three points,” Hector Cuper said after his first official win with the Uzbek team.
“It was never in our plan to play defensive in the second half. We wanted to control as we wanted to show what we are capable of. Ultimately, we have lessons to learn from the mistakes we’ve made and now we have three days to work on these. My instruction to the players at half-time was to keep possession,” he added.
The Omanis made a promising start by using the wings well to mount attacks. The sturdy and better built Uzbeks were only too happy to contain their opponents and rely on the odd counterattack to release the pressure. It was during one such counter-move that the Uzbeks won a free kick and Akhmedov, the 31-year-old midfielder who plays for Shanghai SIPG in the Chinese Football League, was calm and composed as he turned it in past Al Rashidi into the Oman goal.
Oman went all out for an equaliser but a resilient Uzbek defence managed to keep them at bay to go in with a 1-0 advantage. Oman was all over the Uzbek half in the second half and should have scored on several occasions, but for some stout-hearted defending from Uzbekistan.
However, they ultimately got an equaliser in the 73rd minute when substitute Al Ghassani broke the defence with a clever run, sidestepped Ignatiy Nesterov on the Uzbek goal and placed into an empty net to send the majority Oman crowd into applause. Then came Shomurodov’s strike that separated the two teams.
“I think we played very well and we were not lucky. Uzbekistan scored from a freekick and that is a bit unlucky. We controlled the game in the second half and scored a good goal. We thought we were in the fight for the three points or at least to take one point. I don’t think luck was on our side today,” Oman coach Peter Verbeek said.
“We have now made it very difficult for ourselves as we are up against another two tough teams Japan and Turkmenistan. In the Gulf Cup, we lost the first game, but we went on to win the Cup,” he added.
Uzbekistan will play Turkmenistan in their next match at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai on January 13, before taking on four-time champions Japan four days later at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium. Oman will next take on four-time champions Japan on January 13 before wrapping off against Turkmenistan on January 17.