Group A goes down to the wire
© AFP

Hosts Qatar defeated China PR thanks to a glorious brace from Yusef Ahmed and Uzbekistan saw off Kuwait at the AFC Asian Cup today to leave Group A wide open with one more round of games to play.

At a near-capacity Khalifa Stadium, Ahmed struck a wonder goal on 27 minutes to put his side in front, cleverly controlling a high ball before volleying it spectacularly into the top-left corner. With an expectant nation watching, the 22-year-old doubled Qatar's lead on the stroke of half-time, dealing a demoralising blow to a young Chinese side that beat Kuwait 2-0 in their opening match.

Earlier, a 65th-minute thunderbolt from impressive captain Server Djeparov gave Uzbekistan a narrow 2-1 win over Kuwait. Uzbekistan had taken the lead shortly before half-time when Azizbek Haydarov inadvertently diverted a Maksim Shatskikh free-kick past the Kuwait goalkeeper, with Bader Al Mutwa levelling from the penalty spot.

It means all four teams are still in with a shout of the quarter-finals, but Uzbekistan are in pole position with six points from two games, followed by China PR and Qatar each on three and Kuwait on zero. The group will go right down to the wire with the last round of games on Sunday, when the Uzbeks take on China PR and Qatar go up against Kuwait. Several permutations are possible and it promises to be a nerve-jangling evening for all concerned.

I hope that Uzbekistan will become the champions, but there are lots of other good teams here as well, like Australia, South Korea, Japan and Iran.
Vadim Abramov, Uzbekistan coach

"I'm very happy that we beat Kuwait today," said Uzbekistan's coach Vadim Abramov. "I think we can spring a surprise here. I hope that Uzbekistan will become the champions, but there are lots of other good teams here as well, like Australia, South Korea, Japan and Iran."

"Now it's a very bad feeling," said Kuwait coach Goran Tufegdzic, who appeared to be unaware that his team were still in with a chance of reaching the last eight, albeit a very slender one. "After two matches we have lost both. But we still have the last match against Qatar. Our target was to reach the second round, but now we have to go out. What can we do? It's football."

In the later game, Qatar's Uruguayan-born striker Sebastian Soria had an early sniff of goal when he rose above the Chinese defence soon after kick-off, only to angle his header narrowly past the post. Qatar were exerting good early pressure but they were almost caught napping on a counter-attack with Deng Zhuoxiang unmarked when he met a Rong Hao cross on six minutes.

The Shandong Luneng midfielder should have scored, but headed the ball directly into goalkeeper Qasem Burhan's arms. Soria also had a wonderful chance on ten minutes but with only the goalkeeper to beat, he hooked the ball wide of the post to the dismay of under-pressure coach Bruno Metsu.

China PR, being rebuilt under coach Gao Hongbo, were dangerous on the break and Burhan did well to collect a high ball sent in by Yu Hai, with Deng lurking dangerously for any errors, midway through the half. Qatar, though, were equally threatening and Ahmed rifled a shot from the edge of the box into the side netting soon after.

With the momentum building in their favour, he broke the deadlock with a wonderful strike, controlling the ball with his knee before volleying it past flailing Chinese goalkeeper Zeng Cheng. Ahmed turned the screw on the stroke of half-time, swivelling away from his marker and planting his shot beyond the outstretched arms of Zeng to send the crowd wild and keep Qatar's quarter-final dreams alive.