Draw enough for Uzbeks to qualify

Uzbekistan reached the AFC Asian Cup quarter-finals after drawing 2-2 with China PR in a topsy-turvy and fiercely-contested final Group A game at the Al Gharafa Stadium today.

Having fallen behind early on, Uzbekistan equalised and then went ahead early in the second period through a fine long-distance effort from one-time CSKA Moscow forward Alexander Geynrikh. Schalke midfielder Hao Junmin brought the East Asian champions level with a magnificent free-kick but despite sustained pressure China PR could not find a winner that would have brought qualification down to head-to-head records.

Yu Hai had given China PR the lead in the sixth minute, in front of a disappointing crowd of just 3,529, with Odil Akhmedov replying for Uzbekistan. Vadim Abramov's team finish top of Group A and will play the runners-up in Group B, one of Japan, Jordan or Syria.

An open start saw both sides threaten, with veteran Uzbek forward Maksim Shatskikh shinning over from six yards and Li Xuepeng drawing a brilliant reaction save from Ignatiy Nesterov at the other end with a glancing header. From the ensuing corner China PR took the lead. Yang Hao whipped the ball in from the Chinese left and Yu Hai's flicked header at the near post took a slight deflection off Akhmedov's arm that bamboozled Nesterov.

Uzbekistan sought an immediate reply, with China PR goalkeeper Yang Zhi forced into a flying one-handed save to repel Server Djeparov's free-kick. China PR had several chances to extend their lead and came close to a glorious second goal when a swerving 25-yard effort from midfielder Zhao Xuri slammed against the bar.

They were made to rue their profligacy on the half hour, as Akhmedov raced onto Djeparov's slick through-ball down the inside-left channel before dinking the ball into the bottom-right corner to level the scores. It took a breath-taking save from Nesterov to prevent China PR restoring their lead in the 36th minute. Gao Lin's point-blank header seemed destined for the top-left corner but the Bunyodkor goalkeeper stretched to tip the ball over the crossbar, to the open-mouthed disbelief of the Chinese players and fans.

Uzbekistan caught China PR cold in the opening seconds of the second half, with Geynrikh picking the ball up in midfield and launching a rising drive that flew into the net from 25 yards. The momentum swung back in China PR's favour ten minutes later, however, as Hao - the only member of China PR's squad not playing in his homeland - found the target with a sublime free-kick that arched into the top-left corner.

Gao saw three chances go begging, heading wide when unmarked from ten yards, shooting over from a tight angle and then stinging Nesterov's palms with a fierce effort on the turn. Despite China PR's best efforts there was to be no late drama and amid the tension in the closing stages, coach Gao Hongbo's complaints about Uzbek time-wasting saw him sent to the stands.