Defending champions Australia edged through to the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup with a 4-2 penalty shootout win over Uzbekistan in the United Arab Emirates.
With the score 0-0 after extra-time, goalkeeper Mathew Ryan became the hero for the Socceroos as he saved two penalties to see his side through to the last eight.
The two teams had only met once before at the Asian Cup prior to today’s game at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium and that match ended 6-0 to the current Asian Cup holders.
They could only dream of a similar result today, however, as they started the match second best.
The first big chance of the game came when a change of pace left Australian defender Trent Sainsbury flat-footed and saw Eldor Shomurodov through on goal but he was unable to put his shot past Ryan.
Throughout the first half Uzbekistan largely neutralised Australia’s threat and almost went ahead two minutes before the half hour mark when a long distance shot from Javokhir Sidikov flew just past the post.
Nine minutes before the break, some good work from Shomurodov saw the ball pulled back to Oostonbek Khamdamov at the top of the box, but his effort flew woefully off target.
Australia gained more control in the second half but were also unable to take their chances, as Uzbekistan rarely ventured out of their own half.
Both sides drifted through extra time without creating any major chances, meaning it all came down to the shootout.
Australia were the first side to miss when Aziz Behich’s effort was saved, but Uzbekistan could not seize the opportunity to go ahead as Ryan then saved Islam Tukhtakhujaev’s shot.
The next three penalties were all scored before Marat Bikmaev saw his effort saved by Ryan again.
Mathew Leckie then stepped up to seal the win for Australia and he made no mistake, tucking the ball away into the bottom left corner.
They will now play the hosts the UAE, who beat Kyrgyzstan in a dramatic match at the Zayed Sports City Stadium that ended 3-2 after extra time.
With the match level at 1-1, Ali Ahmed Mabkhout put the hosts in front in the 64th minute.
As the match entered added time their lead was still intact, only for Tursunali Rustamov to equalise in the 91st minute and sent the match to extra-time.
With penalties on the line for the second successive match, a shootout was avoided when the UAE were awarded a penalty in the 103rd minute, which Ahmed Khalil scored to seal a quarter-final spot for the hosts.
In the day’s early fixture, a single goal from Takehiro Tomiyasu kept Japan on track for a record-extending fifth Asian Cup title.
The defender’s towering header in the 20th minute was enough to see his side past Saudi Arabia 1-0 despite being pinned back for most of the match at the Sharjah Stadium.
Three-time champions Saudi Arabia totally dominated possession but were frustrated throughout by Japan’s resolute defence and ended the match having only managed one shot on target.
Japan’s reward is a last eight tie against Vietnam, who advanced to the quarter-finals for the second successive time with a 4-2 penalty shootout win over Jordan yesterday.