Sharjah: Hosts UAE ended Kyrgyzstan’s fairytale with a controversial extra-time penalty to reach the Asian Cup quarter-finals last night as holders Australia and Japan also advanced.
A knee-wobbling, chest-thumping Mathew Ryan saved two penalties as the Socceroos beat Uzbekistan’s White Wolves in a shootout, while the Japanese bundled out Saudi Arabia.
Substitute Ahmed Khalil was UAE’s hero on an angst-ridden Abu Dhabi night as he blasted home from the spot in the first additional period to set up a meeting with the Socceroos in the last eight.
Less than a quarter of an hour earlier Kyrgyzstan substitute Tursunali Rustamov had stunned the home side when he snatched a dramatic stoppage-time equaliser at the end of a nail-biting contest.
It had taken the Emirates just 14 minutes to break through as Khamis Esmaeel headed in an Ismail Matar corner.
Plucky Kyrgyzstan refused to go unnoticed on their Asian Cup debut, however, and the White Falcons equalised midway through the first half when Mirlan Murzaev squeezed the ball in from a seemingly impossible angle.
Kyrgyz captain Valery Kichin then gave UAE a scare when his curling shot crashed against the crossbar.
But Ali Mabkhout volleyed the 2015 semi-finalists back in front with his third goal of the tournament after some horror defending from Mustafa Iusupov.
That looked to have ended Kyrgyz defiance until Rustamov headed home in the dying seconds to force extra time.
But after Mabkhout had tumbled in the box under minimal contact, the Asian Cup hosts were awarded a penalty that was hotly disputed – for the second time in this tournament.
Khalil kept his cool though and drilled home the spot kick on 103 minutes to give UAE a shot at avenging their semi-final defeat by Australia four years ago.
There was still time for Baktyiar Duishobekov and Rustamov to hit the woodowork, but the Emiratis somehow clung on to give themselves a shot at avenging their semi-final defeat by Australia four years ago.
Ryan saved Australia’s skin under a blood-red “wolf moon” in Al-Ain, doing his best Bruce Grobbelaar impression to distract Uzbekistan’s penalty takers after a bruising 0-0 draw.
The Brighton goalkeeper denied Islom Tukhtakhujaev and Marat Bikmaev before Mathew Leckie smashed in the decisive kick in the shootout to send the Socceroos through.
“This new team of ours showed great calmness under that pressure,” said Australia coach Graham Arnold.
Elsewhere, record four-time winners Japan scraped past Saudi Arabia 1-0 thanks to a first-half header from Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Their win over the three-time champions in Sharjah came despite the Samurai Blue conceding 77 percent possession in favour of the Gulf side.
Japan move on to face southeast Asian champions Vietnam.