Uzbekistan wrote a new chapter in their footballing history on Friday by making the AFC Asian Cup semi-finals for the first time with a tense 2-1 win against Jordan.
Both teams were gunning for a maiden last-four berth at the continent's premier football tournament and a brace from Ulugbek Bakaev earned his team the right to face either Australia or Iraq for a place in the final. At a half-empty Khalifa Stadium, the former CSKA Moscow striker pounced twice in the space of three minutes soon after half-time before Jordan captain Bashar Bani Yaseen pulled one back to set up an exciting finale.
Uzbek coach Vadim Abramov said he told his team to come out in the second-half and attack. "At half-time I told them that in the first five minutes they must be strong. I told them to attack as soon as they went out and we got two goals," he said. "It was a tough game because I think some of my players were a bit scared to play, but obviously I'm very happy."
Asked if they could now win the tournament, he replied: "Yes, why not. From the first time I got here I said we have come here to win. It's the same now."
Abramov made five changes to the side that drew with China 2-2 in their last game, including picking Bakaev. Jordan, meanwhile, were burdened by a slew of injuries, with Odai Al Saify, Hatem Aqel and Anas Bani Yaseen all ruled out.
Jordan's Iraqi coach Adnan Hamad said he was proud of his tired team. "I am very proud of my team and what they have done in this match," he said. "We lost focus in the first five minutes of the second-half, but we got back into it and were very close to getting a draw. I admit fatigue and exhaustion was there and we were missing four key players, so this affected us."
The start for both teams was nervy as each looked to control midfield, and they struggled to build any threatening attacks. It took until the 10th minute for Jordan to create the first clear chance when Ahmad Abdelhalim was fed the ball on the edge of the box only to slice his volley high and wide in an amateurish effort.
An in-swinging corner from Amer Deeb forced Ignatiy Nesterov into action minutes later, with the Uzbek keeper punching clear as the Jordan attack again came to nothing. Both sets of fullbacks were defending well, limiting the chances with the Uzbeks not getting a look in until the 23rd minute, when Alexander Geynrikh rifled a dipping shot from 25 yards that Amer Shafi did well to punch clear.
The game started to open up and Jordan almost went ahead five minutes later when Abdelhalim's dangerous free-kick was palmed clear by Nesterov, who collided with the post and needed treatment. Seconds after the game resumed with a drop-ball, Jordan's Hasan Abdel Fattah shaved the post with a clever volley as the tempo accelerated.
The Uzbeks began throwing men forward and Yaseen did well to continue after a courageous tackle in his own penalty area that appeared to knock out a tooth. Both sides were pushing hard for the breakthrough and Uzbekistan nearly got it on the stroke of half-time when Geynrikh met a low cross from the right and forced a fine reflex save from Shafi.
The block allowed the teams to go into the break all square but Jordan came out for the second-half asleep, with two quick goals stunning them. Bakaev got his first 60 seconds after the restart when he beat the off-side trap to meet a free-kick from captain Server Djeparov and head past Shafi. Jordan were caught napping again just minutes later when Bakaev slid in front of a defender to prod the ball home after a low cross from the left flank.
But credit to Jordan, they fought back and reduced the deficit with Yaseen bringing the mostly Jordanian crowd to their feet when he pounced on a rebound from close range to make it 2-1 with half-an-hour to go. It set up a tense finale and Jordan attacked relentlessly but the Uzbek defence held firm and the Central Asians almost got a third on the counter-attack.
Uzbekistan had made the quarter-finals twice before, in 2004 and 2007, but were denied each time.