Uzbekistan have qualified for their fourth consecutive AFC Futsal Championship semi-final after defeating Tajikistan 3-1 in a listless quarter-final at the Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium in Osaja, Japan, on Thursday.
Two goals from Abdulla Buriev and one from Nikolay Odushev sealed the Uzbek’s progression to the final four, while Firdavs Faizullaev’s 23rd minute strike gave Tajikistan hope of overturning a 2-0 half time deficit.
Buriev’s brace took his tally for the tournament to seven, and was integral in securing Uzbekistan a win from arguably their most uninspiring performance of this competition.
Though the Uzbeks have their semi final place to show for their efforts, they looked a lethargic imitation of the side that was so impressive against Thailand two days earlier.
Prior to this match, the history between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan read two wins from as many attempts for the Uzbeks and despite a rousing second half revival from Tajikistan, the 2006 Championship finalists were seldom in danger of relinquishing their impressive record against their central Asian rivals.
"This game was a very difficult game," said Uzbekistan assistant coach Pavel Bezglyadnov.
"After we scored our second goal, our performance dropped, but we held on for the win.
"Watching IR Iran (Uzbekistan’s semi final opponents), they are of a very high level, they have won the tournament so many times, which is difficult to ignore, all I can ask is that we do our best."
The first half was largely timid affair.
Both sides seemed intent on keeping their backline intact, rather than showcase the attacking verve that has been such a feature of their respective styles so far these Championships.
Interventions of rhythm and fluency were all too fleeting, particularly for the Tajiks, whose star performers Sherzod Jumaev and Rustam Khodjaev were virtually unseen throughout the opening twenty minutes.
To the betterment of the spectacle, the half time break seemed to instigate a sea change of intensity and enthusiasm in the Tajik’s play.
Playmaker Jumaev began to dominate as he has done with regularity throughout the tournament, contributing significantly to Faizullaev’s strike just after the break.
Ultimately though, Tajikistan’s valiant late charge was thwarted by leading Uzbek marksman Buriev only seconds before the final whistle, ending a campaign that has been Tajikistan’s most successful in the history of the Championships.
"I’m still a little upset about the result, but I wish Uzbekistan luck for the semi final," said Tajikistan coach Kameletdinov Damir.
"The second half we played very well, but unfortunately, because of the referee’s judgements we were denied the chance to score the equalising goal.
"To be able to compete against other nations that we don’t normally have the opportunity to play against has been the biggest positive of this tournament for us."
Uzbekistan’s progression will see them face seven-time champions Iran, while Tajikistan will now focus their energies on next years tournament in south-east Asia.
Most positively, in 23-year-old Jumaev, the Tajik’s have a futsal talent of real quality.
The Tajik’s top goal scorer at these Championships, Jumaev will loom large for the central Asians in coming campaigns.