In a refreshing antidote to the stodginess that mars most international games -- especially ones as important as World Cup qualifiers -- Uzbekistan versus Qatar, which ended up 3-1 in the hosts' favour, was mad. Quite delightfully mad. There was nothing short of an all-out brawl that this game was missing. Insane scrambles in the box. Great saves. Stunning long-rangers. Goalkeeper spills. Woodwork rattling. Fantastic finishing. Thanks to events in Seoul, turned it out not to matter, but the match was too fun not to talk about.
Uzbekistan went into the match knowing that a win plus some help from South Korea could see them overtake Iran in AFC Group A, which would mean an automatic spot at the 2014 World Cup. As might be expected, they came out of the gate firing, racking up a half-dozen chances in the first half alone.
Ahmed Sufyan was put under constant pressure by the hosts' attacks, and was found wanting on crosses on more than one occasion. Happily for Qatar, Sufyan's frequent errors went unpunished, and he compensated with some very brave saves whenever Uzbekistan broke through his defence. Which was frequently, mostly thanks to some superb work by Aleksandr Geynrikh.
The visitors spent most of their time pinned back in their own half, which made it all the more amusing when they took the lead. They had already given Ignatiy Nesterov a scare when the Uzbek goalkeeper was forced to parry Khalfan Ibrahim's long range drive onto his own post, but the goalkeeper had no chance when Ibrahim took advantage of some awful positioning from Anzur Izmailov to send Abdulgadir Bakur clean through on goal.
The El Jaish SC man didn't have much time, but he made it count, leaving Nesterov rooted to the spot with a delicious bounding shot that nestled into the far corner. Despite Uzbekistan dominating play, they found themselves 1-0 behind 37 minutes in.
The response was furious. Geynrikh hit the woodwork from a corner and then had a goal disallowed (correctly) for offside. Odil Ahmedov came up with a brilliant spinning volley from the edge of the penalty box that beat Sufyan but cannoned back off the crossbar. Sufyan then had to save from Geynrikh after the striker managed to weave his way through the Qatar defence and shoot from cross range.
The halftime whistle provided only a temporary reprieve. Uzbekitsan were once more on the front foot and quickly had the ball in the back of the net -- this time through substitute Ulughbek Bakaev -- only to see the effort ruled out for offside once again. Bakaev then had another chance from a Geynrikh cross only to power his header well wide.
The hosts were always going to find the equaliser, however, and it came via Bahodyr Nasimov, who slotted home a square ball from very close range to bring the score back to 1-1. But as the football gods giveth, the football gods taketh away, and the news of Iran's goal in Seoul meant that Uzbekistan's target of second was virtually unreachable even if they found a second goal against Qatar.
Said second goal arrived in the 72nd minute via Oleg Zoteev, who danced through the Qatar defence before sweeping past Sufyan, and Nasimov struck again to give the hosts a two-goal lead. Odil Ahmedov made it 4-1 as injury time loomed. Bakaev then got Uzbekistan's fifth as they came perilously close to edging past South Korea on goal difference, but ultimately they came up just short.
Although there's no automatic place in the World Cup for the Uzbeks next season, they at least have momentum on their side as they head into a playoff match against Oman. The winner of that game will then face the fifth placed team from CONMEBOL.