ABU DHABI (AFP) – Hosts United Arab Emirates ended Kyrgyzstan’s fairytale with a controversial extra-time penalty to reach the Asian Cup quarter-finals on Monday (Jan 21) as holders Australia and Japan also advanced.
A knee-wobbling, chest-thumping Mathew Ryan saved two spot kicks as the Socceroos beat Uzbekistan’s White Wolves in a shootout, while the Blue Samurai bundled out Saudi Arabia.
Substitute Ahmed Khalil was UAE’s hero on an angst-ridden Abu Dhabi night as he converted another late penalty after a refereeing decision that could charitably be described as “soft”.
“I don’t want to talk about the referee,” growled Kyrgyzstan coach Aleksandr Krestinin. “We leave the tournament with a lot of regrets – we deserved more. It’s our first Asian Cup but I’m absolutely sure it won’t be our last and we will come back stronger.”
Kyrgyz substitute Tursunali Rustamov had stunned the Emirates when he snatched a dramatic stoppage-time equaliser at the end of a nail-biting contest that began so poorly for the former Soviet republic. It took the home side just 14 minutes to break through as Khamis Esmaeel headed in an Ismail Matar corner.
Plucky Kyrgyzstan refused to go down without a fight, however, and the White Falcons equalised midway through the first half when Mirlan Murzaev squeezed the ball in from a seemingly impossible angle.
Kyrgyz captain Valery Kichin subsequently gave UAE a scare when his curling shot crashed against the crossbar. But Ali Mabkhout volleyed the 2015 semi-finalists back in front with his third goal of the tournament after some horror defending from Mustafa Iusupov.
That looked to have ended Kyrgyzstan’s brave resistance until Rustamov headed home in the dying seconds to force extra time. But after Mabkhout had crumpled to the turf under minimal contact 11 minutes into the first additional period, the former runners-up were awarded a disputed late penalty for the second time in this tournament.
As he had in the curtain raiser against Bahrain, Khalil coolly drilled home the spot kick to give UAE a shot at avenging their semi-final defeat by Australia four years ago.
There was still time for Baktyiar Duishobekov and Rustamov to hit the woodwork, but the Emiratis somehow clung on to give themselves a shot at avenging their semi-final defeat by Australia four years ago.
“Yes we had another penalty but we created a lof of chances,” insisted UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who steered Japan to the Asian Cup title in 2011. “We didn’t kill the game off but we showed a positive response and strong character after their late equaliser.”
Meanwhile, Ryan saved Australia’s skin under a blood-red “wolf moon” in Al-Ain, doing his best Bruce Grobbelaar impression to distract Uzbekistan’s penalty takers after a bruising 0-0 draw.
The Brighton goalkeeper denied Islom Tukhtakhujaev and Marat Bikmaev before Mathew Leckie smashed in the decisive kick in the shootout to send the Socceroos through.
“This new team of ours showed great calmness under that pressure,” said Australia coach Graham Arnold. “That’s why Maty is in the Premier League and that’s why he’s such a world-class goalkeeper.”
Elsewhere, four-time winners Japan scraped past Saudi Arabia 1-0 thanks to a first-half header from Takehiro Tomiyasu. Japan’s win over the three-time champions in Sharjah came despite conceding 77 per cent possession in favour of the Gulf side.
“Asian football is getting more competitive,” said Japan captain Maya Yoshida after the Blue Samurai moved on to face Vietnam. “To become Asian champions would put us close to the world’s elite so we have to keep improving.”