SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Uzbekistan opened their Asian Cup campaign with a 1-0 victory over North Korea on Saturday but needed a last second save from their goalkeeper to take all three points after spurning a series of chances at Stadium Australia.
Failure to beat North Korea - the lowest ranked team in the tournament - would have been a big blow to Uzbekistan's chances of progressing from the tightly contested Group B, which also includes China and Saudi Arabia.
The only goal of the game came just after the hour mark when Igor Sergeev headed in a cross from his captain Server Djeparov, capping a much-improved second half performance from the Central Asian team, who were semi-finalists in Qatar four years ago.
Sergeev came close to scoring his second goal of the game 15 minutes before full time, but his effort from Sardor Rashidov's cross went over the bar.
Sanjar Tursunov too should have got himself on the score sheet, but, with the goal at his mercy, he fired the ball side-footed straight at the North Korean keeper from 10 metres out.
Twice Asian player of the year Djeparov was at the heart of much of Uzbekistan's best play but the Central Asian team were wasteful in front of goal.
The wastefulness almost cost them when North Korea nearly snatched a draw through a header from Pak Kwang Ryong, which was saved by Uzbekistan keeper Shavkatjon Mulladjanov in the last few seconds of the match.
Goal-scoring opportunities were at a premium in the first half, mostly because Uzbekistan were unable to make the most of their dominance of possession, often choosing to shoot from long range.
The best opportunity before half time came inside the first 15 minutes but Timur Kapadze's header hit the post, having taken a deflection off a North Korea player.