China beats Uzbekistan, reaches quarterfinals at Asian Cup
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — China secured an Asian Cup quarterfinal spot with a 2-1 comeback win over 2011 semifinalist Uzbekistan on Wednesday, with Wu Xi and Sun Ke scoring second-half goals to reach the knockout stage for this first time in 11 years.
China leads Group B with six points from two games and, with Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia each on three points and meeting in the last of the preliminaries, is assured of finishing at the top.
The Chinese dominated possession and territory early but Uzbekistan opened the scoring midway through the first half, when Odil Ahmedov cut in from the left, steadied, and fired in a right-foot shot from 25 yards which deflected off Wu and looped inside the far past.
Wu made up for it when he equalized 10 minutes into the second half and Sun, who went on in the 66th, made an angled run from the left two minutes later and struck from the edge of the area to seal the win.
“We played a very beautiful match,” China coach Alain Perrin said. “Now we can move to the knockout stage in the first ranking of the group. It’s fantastic.”
China will play winless North Korea in Canberra on Sunday and return to Brisbane for a Jan. 22 quarterfinal against either Australia or South Korea — whichever places second in Group A.
Perrin said the superior physical condition of his team was the determining factor in humid sub-tropical conditions.
“We kept playing football by our style,” he said. “In the second half, because of the stamina, we got more space to pass the ball as our opponents got tired. I think we deserve this result.”
Ahmedov had the opportunity to give Uzbekistan a 2-0 lead in the first half after captain Server Djeparov was dragged down just outside the area by China defender Ren Hang, but he drilled the resulting free kick and into the shins of a Chinese defender on the edge of the wall.
China had four shots in the first half, but Uzbekistan goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov came off his line twice to defuse dangerous crosses from the flanks.
He also had no trouble stopping Wu’s shot from close range minutes into the second half, but had no chance against the Chinese midfielder in the 55th.
Wu neatly finished off an attacking move that started with Jiang Zhipeng’s long, floated cross from the left flank to the right, just out of Nesterov’s range, that was acrobatically flicked into the area by Gao Lin.
Replacement Uzbekistan midfielder Sardo Rashidov forced a save from Wang Dalie in the 67th but China responded immediately at the other end through Sun.
China dominated the latter stages, and the best missed chance was Zhang Linpeng’s volley over the crossbar in the 75th.
Uzbekistan coach Mirdjalal Kasimov said his lineup had the better of the first half, but China responded well and made the most of two defensive lapses in the second.
“After we conceded, China got stronger and changed the game,” Kasimov said. “I want to congratulate the Chinese team on qualifying.”
Both teams won their opening matches, with Uzbekistan edging North Korea 1-0 and China beating the Saudis by the same margin.
Saudi Arabia had a 4-1 win over North Korea earlier Wednesday, keeping its chances alive.