Uzbekistan pulled of the surprise of the tournament so far at Mexico 2011 as they came from behind to defeat Czech Republic 2-1 to claim top spot in Group D - over USA and New Zealand, who played out a goalless draw on Thursday - and a place in the round of 16.
The Uzbek youngsters, who defeated USA in their last outing, and Czech Republic, who beat New Zealand, set up for an intriguing final day of matches in Group D. With all four teams in the group entering the matchday level on three points, a win would prove absolutely vital for direct progression to the last 16. Both Uzbekistan and Czech Republic came out with attacking on their minds, intensely battling to take the lead in such a crucial encounter.
Uzbekistan had the first real chance of the match when captain Abbosbek Makhstaliev fired a shot over the crossbar. The Czechs, unwilling to sit back, responded just before the quarter-hour mark through Lucas Julis, who was looking to net his second of the tournament, but his effort hit the post. The action switched from end to end with a frenetic pace, and Kholmurod Kholmurodov then saw his shot from 20 metres denied by the post as well.
Julis, keen on reliving the glory of scoring a goal at these finals, found space in the Uzbekistan area, and his shot caught the hand of an Uzbek defender. The striker then made no mistake from the penalty spot, putting the Europeans into the lead in the 23rd minute.
The Uzbek boys, for their part, were hungry to find an equaliser and pushed forward at a rapid pace. Goalkeeper Lukas Zima, keeping up his stellar form between the posts, denied Azizbek Muratov, who had received the ball in a good position to take a clear shot. However, the mounting assault from Uzbekistan proved to be much before the break, as midfielder Azizbek served a fine pass in the area to Timur Khakimov, who levelled the score at 1-1.
Seemingly sparked by their late first-half equaliser, Uzbekistan were gunning for an unlikely finish atop Group D. While Czech Republic decided to use all three substitutes, the Uzbeks stuck with the same line-up from the first half until Davlatbek Yarbekov was brought on in the 71st minute. And just two minutes later, the change proved pivotal as the Uzbeks offensive style again paid off. Yarbekov sent a cross into the area and in-form skipper Makhstaliev hammered the youngsters to a historic victory in their first appearance at the finals.
As first-place finishers, Uzbekistan will take on one of the best third-place teams in Torreon on 29 June, while USA take second place and have to wait to find out the identity of their opponent. Third-place finishers New Zealand will meet Japan in Monterrey.