Djeparov fires Uzbeks towards Asian Cup quarters

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Doha, Jan 12 (AFP) A thunderbolt from captain ServerDjeparov gave Uzbekistan a 2-1 win over Kuwait that took themto the brink of the Asian Cup last eight here today and leftKuwait on the verge of elimination.

Djeparov cracked home a first-time shot from 20 yards inthe 65th minute to continue Uzbekistan''s 100 percent record inGroup A after the 2-0 defeat of Qatar in their group opener.

Uzbekistan had taken the lead shortly before half-timewhen Azizbek Haydarov inadvertently diverted a MaksimShatskikh free-kick past the Kuwait goalkeeper, with Bader AlMutwa levelling from the penalty spot.

Victory means Uzbekistan need just a point from theirfinal group game against China on Sunday to reach thequarter-finals, while they will go through if Qatar fail tobeat China in Wednesday''s late game.

In front of over 18,000 empty seats at the Al GharafaStadium, Kuwait started with purpose and twice threatened totake an early lead.

Uzbekistan goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov did well to savefrom Fahad Al Enezi after racing to the edge of his box insidethe first minute, while Walied Ali clipped a shot narrowlywide moments later.

Gradually, however, Uzbekistan began to assume control ofmidfield, and Odil Akhmedov headed over from point-blank rangein the eighth minute following a sweeping one-touch move.

Uzbekistan opened the scoring in the 41st minute and thebreakthrough stemmed from the right foot of veteran Shatskikh,whose goal-bound effort clipped Haydarov''s back to wrong-footNawaf Al Khaldi in the Kuwaiti goal.

Kuwait coach Goran Tufegdzic sent on Hamad Nayef athalf-time and the striker had an immediate impact.

Having headed inches over the bar from Fahad Awad''sleft-wing centre moments after coming on, Nayef then won apenalty when he tripped over under pressure from AnzurIsmailov on the perimeter of the Uzbek box.

Al Mutwa held his nerve to place the ball into thebottom-right corner, sparking the Kuwaiti fans into song afterHaydarov''s goal had silenced them.

Parity reigned for just over 15 minutes, however, and ifUzbekistan''s opener had been slightly fortunate, their secondgoal owed everything to the ball-striking ability of Djeparov.

Uzbekistan had been on the back foot since conceding theequaliser, but when substitute Jasur Khasanov picked outDjeparov just outside the box, the captain let fly with a finefirst-time shot that flashed into the net.

Substitute Ahmad Ajab spurned Kuwait''s best chance toequalise, volleying well over the bar from six yards after AlMutwa picked him out with a raking ball from the right flank.

Al Enezi also drew a finger-tip save from Nesterov with apowerful effort from the edge of the box as the game tickedinto injury time. (AFP) SHN

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