Tehran: Uzbekistan booked their place
in the final of the 2012 AFC U-16 Championship after coming from a goal down to defea
t tournament hosts Iran 3-2 in a pulsating semi-final encounter at the PAS Stadium on Wednesday.
Iran started the game briskly and took the lead after just four minutes through a deflected free-kick from Seyed majid Hosseini but goals from Doctonbek Khamadov (13th), Izzatilla Abdullaev (35th) and Otabek Shukurov (42nd) gave Uzbekistan a 3-1 lead at the interval.
Uzbekistan defended stoutly in the second-half and although Amirmohammad Mazloum gave Iran a glimmer of hope with two minutes remaining it was too little too late for the hosts.
After putting in arguably the finest performance of the competition so far in the 5-1 annihilation of Australia that booked Iran’s place in the final four, head coach Ali Doustimehr kept faith with the majority of the starting 11 that put the Joeys to the sword in the quarter-finals.
The only change for Doustimehr was an enforced one with Erfan Vejdani being replaced by Komeil Haghzadeh, who came on for Vejdani when he was taken off injured 26 minutes into the Australia victory.
Doustimehr’s counterpart Dilshod Nuraliyev also made just one alteration to his line-up from that one that started the penalty shootout win over Korea Republic, with Mukhiddin Odilov dropping to the bench to make way for Ravshanbek Khursanov, who missed the quarter-final through suspension.
Iran made the perfect start with the hosts taking the lead with just four minutes at the PAS Stadium played.
Saeid Ezatolahi was sandwiched between two Uzbek players and bundled to the ground in shooting range for Iran skipper Seyedmajid Hosseini, who had displayed his power and accuracy from distance with his stunning free-kick in the 2-1 victory over Kuwait.
And while Hosseini’s low drive lacked his usual power it took a telling deflection off of Khursanov, wrong-footing Uzbek keeper Sarvar Karimov for the strapping central defender’s third goal of the campaign.
Iran’s lead lasted barely ten minutes with Doctonbek Khamadov slotting the ball through the legs of Iran keeper Danial Kazemnia after latching onto a precise pass from Akobir Turaev, scorer of Uzbekistan’s opener in their quarter-final with the Koreans.
With ten minutes of the first-half still to play, the Uzbeks took the lead courtesy of a superb right-foot volley from the apex of the Iranian penalty box from Izzatilla Abdullaev.
But the Uzbeks hadn’t finished there with Otabek Shukurov surging forward from midfield before coolly sweeping the ball past Kazemnia in the 42nd minute with the Iranian keeper and backtracking defenders expecting the Uzbek skipper to pass to a supporting team-mate.
The hosts had no choice to press forward in the second half and after Karimov had made a couple of routine catches from Iran’s early forays into opposition territory Amirmohammad Mazloum was just too high with his 51st minute lob over the Uzbek keeper.
Five minutes after the hour Karimov was called into action again with a fine fingertip save from Hosseini’s blistering long range drive and while Iran continued to dominate possession they struggled to find the key that would unlock the Uzbek defence.
With a quarter-of-an-hour left on the clock Hosseini went down in the Uzbek penalty box but all the Iran skipper earned was a yellow card from Kuwaiti referee Yousef Al Marzouq as the hosts desperately tried to find a way back into the semi-final.
Karimov had to be on his guard to prevent Ali Hazmi’s 80th minute cross from creeping in under the crossbar as Iran’s pressure continued and their efforts paid off with two minutes remaining when Mazloum reduced the deficit.
It was too little too late for the Iranians however, as the Uzbeks held firm in the remainder of the match to claim their place in Saturday’s final.