Uzbekistan beat Qatar in Asian Cup opener

DOHA - Hosts Qatar, who have been celebrating landing the 2022 World Cup finals for the last five weeks, got a reality check on Friday when they lost 2-0 to Uzbekistan in their opening Asian Cup match.

The Qataris lacked ideas, pace and direction as the Central Asian side, ranked 109th in the world, five places above them, largely controlled the match.

They did not even play all that well themselves but after taking the lead with a superb 28-metre strike from midfielder Odil Akhmedov which flew in off the crossbar after 59 minutes, always looked the likely winners.

They doubled their lead when their skipper Server Djeparov punished a wayward defensive pass and steered the ball past stranded keeper Qasem Burhan into the empty net after 77 minutes.

It was a huge anti-climax for the hosts and their French coach Bruno Metsu, whose promise of an attacking vibrant start from his men never materialised.

The home side clearly did not impress their own fans, who left the Khalifa Stadium in droves long before the final whistle as Qatar's 23-year wait for a win in the finals since they last hosted them in 1988 continued.

ADDED SIGNIFICANCE

The match, as well as kicking off Asia's top international tournament, had added significance following FIFA's surprise decision last month to award Qatar the right to stage the World Cup in 11 years time.

The remarks made by FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Friday that he expected those finals to be played at this time of year rather than the traditional June or July when the desert heat will be stifling, also added to the occasion.

Although that tournament is still more than a decade away, this match was being televised live by 36 broadcasters across the world and gave many viewers their first taste of what a Middle East World Cup might be like.

They would have seen a modern stadium but one lacking the atmosphere normally generated by home fans at the start of an international tournament, apart from that produced by about 100 drum-beating Uzbekistan supporters.

As a spectacle, it was occasionally entertaining with both teams swift on the break but both poor with the final effort as they looked for the opening goal.

Qatar's Brazilian-born striker Fabio Cesar went closest for the hosts after 39 minutes when his free-kick rebounded off the base of goalkeeper Anzur Ismailov's right-hand post.

He also went close with a far post header after five minutes that he planted wide of the other post.

Uzbekistan also had their chances to score in the opening half with striker Alexander Geynrikh clipping the bar after seven minutes. Winger Jasur Khasanov was also guilty of some wasteful approach work when he shot rather than passed to team mates in better positions.

There were few chances for either side in a second half which was largely devoid of goalmouth action, but when the chances came Uzbekistan took them well.