Uzbekistan coach Vadim Abramov saluted his players after seeing his side qualify for the Asian Cup quarter-finals as Group A winners following a 2-2 draw with China at Al Gharafa Stadium.
Uzbekistan needed just a point to progress but fell behind after six minutes to Yu Hai's header only for Odil Akhmedov's second goal of the tournament and Alexander Geynrikh's strike to give them the lead shortly after the interval.
China equalised through Schalke midfielder Hao Junmin's superb free-kick but could not find the goal they needed to keep alive their last-eight hopes as Qatar's 3-0 win over Kuwait saw the hosts progress instead. However, China spurned a number of chances to win the game as they were denied by a combination of poor finishing and inspired goalkeeping by Ignatiy Nesterov.
"I want to thank my players because they played very well in the group games. The result was satisfactory for us, which is why we played more defensively today," said Abramov. "I don't think we were lucky. We played very well and had many chances to score, for example when (Maksim) Shatskikh could not score in the opening minutes.
"I think many things depend on the psychology of the players. The last two games against Qatar and Kuwait were very hard and very tough games against two strong teams."
They will now face either Japan, Jordan or Syria in the knockout stage but Abramov was more concerned about the quality of his side's defending. "I don't care who we play in the next round," he added. "The defence hasn't played so well, too many mistakes and now I have some time before the next game so I will see what I can do."
Despite their early exit, China assistant boss Fu Bo said the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011 had proved invaluable to a team building towards qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil.
"We've learned a lot from these two matches. Today we had many chances but we lacked a little luck. If we solved the problem of our wayward shooting, maybe we could have changed the result," he said. "But you can see during the match, everyone stood up and everyone tried to change the result.
"Since this team got together, we have been focusing on qualifying for the World Cup. Now we end our journey in the Asian Cup but we have played three different matches and have had three different results. They were very good practice for our young players."
"I think our team did very well in this Asian Cup and got great experience but the result shows that we need to do a lot of work in the future."