Reigning Asian champions Uzbekistan started their second appearance at the FIFA U-17 World Cup with a strong showing against Panama in Fujairah, beating the Central Americans 2-0 Friday. Panama coach Jorge Dely Valdes was visibly disappointed with his side after the opening loss and expected more from the group that stormed their way to the final of the CONCACAF U-17 championship.
The first half was a relatively innocuous affair, with few chances for either side as both teams looked to settle the nerves experienced during the first minutes of any international competition. Uzbekistan came to life 22 minutes in when Jamshid Boltaboev fired a powerful right-footed shot from outside the box, but his effort sailed over the crossbar.
And one minute later Dilshod Nuraliev’s men put forth another good effort, this time coming from a good string of possession that ended with Izzatilla Abdullaev shooting from outside the box and kissing the left post.
The half-time whistle came and went without any other chances, but after the restart it was Panama who looked likely to open the scoring. Three minutes into the second-half, Milciades Molina hit an impressively powerful shot from outside the area that struck the intersection of the far post and crossbar. Uzbekistan goalkeeper Sarvar Karimov could only look on as Molina’s strike sailed past him, but to the Uzbeks' delight the ball deflected out for a goal-kick.
After their initial scare, Uzbekistan turned up their attacking pressure, which kept Panama on the back foot for the remainder of the match. And after a couple of quality chances, it was substitute Shohjahon Abbasov who finally broke the deadlock in the 68th minute. A curling free-kick sent into the area by Jamshid Boltaboev found Abbasov alone on the near post, and he tapped in past Panama goalkeeper Jaime De Gracia.
Rustamjon Ashurmatov added Uzbekistan’s second only eight minutes later to put the match out of reach when he connected off a fortunate deflection from a corner-kick, sending his volley past De Gracia’s, who could only look on in disbelief.
Panama tried to muster up a response in the final ten minutes but it wasn’t to come. Dely Valdes will certainly look to improve his side’s attacking efforts, having only had one-third of Uzbekistan’s shots on goal. Uzbekistan’s next encounter in Group C play will be against Morocco, while Panama will take on Croatia on Monday.