At just 23 years-old, little known Uzbekistani striker Sandor Rashidov lit up a cold summer night in Melbourne with a classy double and salvaging his nation a spot in the Asian Cup Quarter Finals.
In an unexpected twist Uzbekistan upset Saudi Arabia 3 – 1 on Sunday night in Melbourne, sending the Arab nation home packing early once again.
Melbournians who were still sour after a poor Australian loss resulting in AAMI Park missing out on hosting a Socceroos Quarter-Final were dealt an exciting remedy to suffice their football appetites.
A quick start from Uzbekistan caught a slow starting Saudi Arabia defense off-guard. Inside the first ninty seconds of the game, midfielder Sardor Rashidov was able to control a bobbling ball on the far wing to run into the box, tap over the head of a defender and place the ball through Saudi goalkeeper Waleed Abdulla’s legs for the opening goal.
The goal sent the Saudi’s into shock, who over the next 20 minutes would methodically begin to regain control of the ball and attempt to link with forward outlets. Their best chance quickly swatted away by a sliding Uzbek challenge.
There was a sense around the ground that it was only a matter of time until the Saudi’s broke through to bring the game back level. Just 13 minutes into the second half, referee Ben Williams handed a soft penalty to Al Shalawi who converted bringing the game back level.
Intensity rose from both side who fought hard to gain possession of the ball; Ben Williams also beginning to have an impact on the game handing out soft fouls and 4 yellow cards in a fast 8 minutes.
Capitalising on defensive gaps, Uzbekistan once again began to create more exciting forward movements opening them up on goals. A high spiraling cross flying into the path of substitute Vokhid Shodiev who nodded the ball across the goal and into the back of the net. Uzbekistan had their lead once again.
The Uzbekistan wave of attack continued when striker Sardor Rashidov ran free down the middle on a counter attack and received a cross into the middle, which he skilfully drilled past the keeper with ease.
3 – 1 was the final score, Uzbekistan once again headed deep into the Asian Cup finals and Saudi Arabia sent home without making the knockout round.
Words by Jacob Arnott. Photos by Aleksandar Jason.