What: Qatar Asian Cup 2011 Semi-Final
Who: Uzbekistan vs Australia
When: Tuesday, 25th January, 2011, at 16.25 UK Time
Where: Khalifa Stadium, Doha, Qatar

Uzbekistan Confident that Fate is on Their Side

For purported underdogs the Uzbekistan team are certainly brimming with confidence. Keeper Ignatiy Nesterov made it clear when asked about the prospect of a shootout: “No. We are not practising any penalties. I am confident that we can wrap it up within the allotted time” he said, pointing to the necessity to control the game and hold onto the ball as being key to their progress.

Ulugbek Bakaev scored a quick fire brace to earn the Uzbekistanis a win in the ‘Battle of the Minnows’, despatching with Jordan within the 90 minutes. With an extra day to prepare for the semi-final, coach Vadim Abramov will no doubt fancy that his team can match the Australians for fitness and perhaps edge them out. It won’t be easy. FIFA’s 108th ranked team are no longer a surprise package having beaten the hosts in the competition’s opener.

The White Wolves may not have impressed overly in reaching this semi-final, but the fluency shown in earlier games, combined with the sharpness in front of goal in the quarter-final, could prove a deadly combination. When they click this team seem to be a real football-playing force, filled with confidence and talent, and what they lack in star names they make up for in their sense of destiny. But having gone further than ever before, that might not be enough.

Australia Soldier on with Final in Sight

Australia left it late to overcome the Iraqis, controlling the game for long periods, but failing to find the net until an early ball in by Matt McKay landed perfectly on the head of Harry Kewell who finally found the back of the net after 117 minutes of play. This was a performance that highlighted the problems facing Australia. With no out-and-out striker on the park, they could not kill off the spirited Iraqis and left themselves liable as the game went on. A touch of luck and the Lions of Mesopotamia could well have caught the Australians out as fatigue seemed to catch up with them.

Coach Holger Osieck summed it up well saying: "Basically, we should have done our job in 90 minutes and then Iraq became very strong in extra-time." Having the oldest squad in the tournament can be a liability and the Uzbekistanis will have taken notice. But it is not all doom and gloom, Australia are into the semi-final and will view this as the best possible draw having picked up a game with probably the weakest of the semi-finalists.

Hopes that Jason Culina might recover have been dashed and how they line up will be important with some fresh legs needed to ensure there is no repeat of the nerve-racking extra time period against Iraq. Having a number of players who can do something special makes the challenge that much easier though.


Recent form


Uzbekistan 2-1 Kuwait
(12/01; Asian Cup Group A)
China 2-2 Uzbekistan
(16/01; Asian Cup Group A)
Uzbekistan 2-1 Jordan
(21/01; Asian Cup Quarter-Final)

Australia 1-1 South Korea
(14/01; Asian Cup Group C)
Australia 1-0 Bahrain
(18/01; Asian Cup Group C)
Australia 1-0 Iraq (22/01; Asian Cup Quarter-Final)

Players to watch

Uzbekistan – Server Djeparov: Awarded the Man of the Match for every one of the group games, Djeparov is a former Asian Footballer of the Year. Plying his trade at home for Bunyodkor, his recent stint on loan at FC Seoul has given him some good experience for this tournament. Although slight, the 28-year-old is very talented on the ball and certainly can’t be left alone to pick his passes. Playing in this semi-final will make him the second most capped Uzbekistan player of all-time and that experience will be invaluable against Australia.

Australia – Matt McKay: The Brisbane Roar skipper really caught the eye in the quarter-final against Iraq, not just for his match-winning contribution for the goal, but also for his constant menace down the left. The utility player has been able to fill in where needed for this team and provides a mobile option wherever he is, making intelligent runs and using the ball well. If he carries this form into the semi-final McKay will be a marked man, making space for others.

Match Prediction

It is hard not to feel a thrill at seeing an unheralded team playing well and getting results, and the confidence of the Uzbekistan manager is quite infectious. “At the first press conference I said we could win this tournament and I’ve not changed my mind”, said Vadim Abramov after beating Jordan. However, the underdogs may well come unstuck against Australia, not least because as well as they have played, this will be the first time they have come up against one of the tournament’s stronger teams.

Holger Osieck brought an experienced team to Qatar he believed could win this competition for Australia and the sheer number of potential match winners on the pitch, including the return of the suspended Brett Emerton, should make them favourites. Profligacy almost cost the Socceroos against Iraq, but a similar number of chances should not be wasted again. Australia to win quite easily, though Uzbekistan will do themselves proud.