Saudi Arabia continued to bury the demons of their disappointing AFC Asian Cup showing in China three years ago by progressing to the semi-finals with a 2-1 win over Uzbekistan on Sunday evening.
Helio Anjos’ team will now meet the defending champions in Hanoi in the semi-finals in a repeat of the 2000 final, when Japan secured a second Asian title with a 1-0 in the Lebanese capital Beirut.
Goals from Yasser Al Qahtani – his third of the competition – and substitute Ahmed Al Mousa took the Saudis through, although they had an anxious last 10 minutes when Pavel Solomin pulled one back in the 81st minute.
Alexander Geynrikh hit the post two minutes later as the Saudis survived by the skin of their teeth against an Uzbek side that hit the woodwork on a total of five occasions throughout the 90 minutes.
The Saudis took the lead in only the third minute when Abdulrahman Al Qahtani burst down the left before cutting his cross into the Uzbek penalty area. Goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov parried the ball away from goal, but only as far as Yasser Al Qahtani, who slotted home from 12 yards out.
Just two minutes later Uzbekistan almost snatched an equaliser when Server Djeparov smashed his effort from the edge of the penalty area but, with Yasser Al Mosailem well beaten, the ball came back off the Saudi keeper’s left upright.
The brisk opening continued in the 11th minute when Nesterov pulled off a fine save from Saad Khariri, the Al Ittihad midfielder flicking Abdulrahman Al Qahtani’s free kick towards goal with his head.
Uzbekistan captain Maksim Shatskikh caused problems throughout the opening period and 19 minutes into the game he tried his luck from distance, only for Walid Abdrabh Jahdali to deflect the shot wide via the post.
Three minutes later the Uzbeks were to be frustrated again, this time as Aziz Ibragimov steered Djeparov’s corner wide. But in the 28th minute Rauf Inileyev’s side thought they had finally pulled level.
Djeparov’s free kick was saved by Al Mosailem, and Shatskikh fired high into the net on the rebound. However, the assistant referee ruled the effort out for offside.
Yasser Al Qahtani almost doubled Saudi Arabia’s lead in the 31st minute only to pull his shot wide while Malek Maaz’s header was also just off target three minutes later.
An end-to-end half finished with Vitaly Denisov firing a powerful shot from the left across the face of goal, narrowly missing the far post.
The Uzbeks continued their quest for the equaliser within four minutes of the restart when Djeparov’s cross was met by Ibragimov, but his downward header came back off the woodwork.
But as they became increasingly desperate, the gaps started to appear at the back. Inileyev’s side had two warnings – from Taisser Al Jassam and Al Mousa – in the minutes before the Saudis doubled their advantage.
Al Mousa started and finished the move that ultimately won the game for the Saudis, laying the ball off to Khaled Aziz, who found Yasser Al Qahtani and his perfect pass split the Uzbek defence and Al Mousa finished in style with 15 minutes to go.
Solomin, however, finally found the back of the net for the Uzbeks six minutes later when he bundled the ball over the line after Hayrulla Karimov’s header had hit the crossbar and Geynrikh thought he had done enough to take the game into extra-time only for his right-foot shot to come back off the frame of the goal.