The 2011 edition of the AFC Asian Cup kicked off on Friday at the Khalifa Stadium, with a spectacular party featuring fireworks and laser-light displays illuminating the skies of the Qatari capital of Doha.
The opening ceremony began with a speech by the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, before the spotlight shone on an elderly gentleman and child who addressed the Qatari ruler. As part of the stunning laser-light show that followed, a football pitch was traced out, onto which the flags of the 16 competing nations were projected.
Next up were fireworks exploding all around the stadium, in a glittering pyrotechnic display which lasted for several minutes and wowed the watching spectators. Yet the home fans’ awe soon turned to disappointment when hosts Qatar were beaten by Uzbekistan in the tournament’s opening game.
Qatar 0-2 Uzbekistan, Khalifa Stadium, Doha, Friday 7 January 2011
Not even the most pessimistic of Qatari fans would have expected the Annabi to make such a bad start to the tournament, particularly with the vast majority of the 37,000 spectators packing the stadium giving vociferous support right from the off. Yet it was Uzbekistan who started the brighter and dominated proceedings early on, very nearly taking a 7th-minute lead when Alexander Geynrikh’s shot rattled the crossbar.
The hosts, for their part, had to wait until the 39th minute for their best chance, with Fabio Cesar curling a free-kick against the right post. However, that was as good as it got with Uzbekistan opening the scoring in the 58th minute via a stunning strike from Odil Ahmedov, whose shot struck the underside of the crossbar before nestling in the back of the net. And with 14 minutes remaining Server Djeparov capitalised on a defensive mistake from Qatar to make it 2-0, thus setting the seal on an unexpected win for Uzbekistan and a stuttering start for the host nation.
Server Djeparov, Uzbekistan
Voted Asia’s best player in 2008, Djeparov played a pivotal role in midfield for the Uzbeks. The creator of several chances for strikers Alexander Geynrikh and Maksim Shatskikh, the 28-year-old also made 41 completed passes and three interceptions. The most important of these came in the 76th minute, when he intercepted a loose back-pass from substitute Khalfan Ibrahim before beating Qatar keeper Qasem Burhan with a first-time shot.
51 – The number of passes made by Uzbekistan midfielder Ahmedov during the game, which worked out as 13 per cent of his team’s total. Also the scorer of a thumping goal for his side, Ahmedov and Co’s opening victory will give them a huge boost in a group which also contains China PR and Kuwait.
What they said
“We’re very happy to win the game but I'm very sorry for the Qatari people because this was a big celebration for them, but that’s football. I’ve watched the Qatari team before and I know how they play. So we planned to play like this and everything went according to plan. We got the three points today and we are happy now but we must not relax. We will enjoy this now but tomorrow we will start looking to the next match. The fact that we beat Qatar today will help us in our next game,” Uzbekistan coach Vadim Abramov.
“Today is a very bad start for our team. We wanted to play well for the people, for everybody but we played a very bad game today. I'm sorry for the fans, for everybody but sometimes it is very difficult to play well right from the start of a tournament, particularly with the pressure on the players. Sometimes the opening game is very difficult; it's not the first time a host team has lost their first game. It is important to protect the players. If there is a problem, a mistake, it's down to me,” Qatar coach Bruno Metsu.