Uzbekistan beats Qatar 2-0 in opener of Asian Cup
Uzbekistan scored twice in the second half Friday to beat Qatar 2-0 in the first match of the Asian Cup, dealing a setback to the hosts who had hoped a win on the pitch would compliment their glitzy opening ceremony.
Midfielder Odil Akhmedov gave the Uzbeks the lead in the 58th minute with a booming shot from 30 yards. The Uzbeks, ranked 109th in the FIFA world rankings, struck again in the 76th when an errant pass was intercepted by midfielder Server Djeparov, who scored from just outside the area.
The hosts, the second-lowest ranked side in the 16-team tournament above India, had their chances. Midfielder Fabio Cesar's free kick hit the post just before halftime and then striker Hussain Yaser shot was cleared by Uzbek defender Sakhob Juraev.
''I'm very happy because it was difficult match,'' Uzbekistan coach Vadim Abramov said. ''At the same time, I'm sorry for the Qatari people. They had this big celebration and then to lose. But this is the game.''
Uzbekistan came into the match as the favorite, with striker Alexander Geynrikh and midfielder Jasur Khasanov constantly pressing the Qatari defense. However, they lacked clinical finishing early on, with Geynrikh coming closest with a shot off the crossbar.
''I think we have a lot of excellent players,'' Abramov said. ''This is not the maximum we can show. I think we can play better.''
Qatar coach Bruno Metsu blamed himself for his team's poor play as well as the pressure of playing in front of more than 37,000 mostly Qatari fans at Khalifa Stadium.
''Today is a very bad entry for our team. We wanted to play a good game and give more things for the people, for everybody,'' Metsu said. ''Today we played a very bad game. I'm sorry for the fans, everybody. Sometimes there is more pressure on the players and they forget many points.''
Qatar, which has billed this tournament as test run for the 2022 World Cup, now faces the prospect of an early exit. It already faces immense pressure to show it can host such a big tournament and prove to skeptics that the tiny desert nation can entertain fans for three weeks. Now, its troubled team is under fire.
Everything went as planned ahead of the match, with most fans getting into the stadium easily before being treated to a spectacular fireworks display. But the team, which has struggled to score in recent months, failed to deliver, and disappointed fans started to leave after Uzbekistan's second goal.
''The players were not so good but we can't say they are responsible,'' Qatari supporter Yossef Hussein said. ''The coach is the leader and he should have dealt with the match in a better manner. There were no tactics, no plan, nothing.''
Now, Metsu said the team faces a must-win match against an improving China team on Wednesday. Then, it faces a Kuwait team it lost to at last year's Gulf Cup.
''We lost three points but we still have six points left,'' Cesar said. ''We have to play better in the next match. We lost to a good opponent in the field. It was difficult to play against short passes in the midfield. That is where they got their confidence.''
Associated Press writer Barbara Surk contributed to this report.