Saudi Arabia crowned AFC U-23 champion


TASHKENT — Saudi Arabia were crowned the AFC U23 Asian Cup Uzbekistan 2022 champions after beating Uzbekistan 2-0 in the final on Sunday.

The young Green Falcons turned on the power in the second half with Ahmed Alghamdi and Firas Albrikan finding the back of the net as Saudi Arabia lifted the title for the first time after having finished runners-up in 2013 and 2020.

The 2022 title was won with Saudi Arabia not conceding a single goal in six matches. Not surprisingly, the early minutes at the Bunyodkor Stadium were a cagey affair with neither team willing to take risks.

While Uzbekistan had the larger portion of control in the first 15 minutes, they were unable to find a way past Saudi Arabia’s stout defense.

Saudi Arabia slowly grew into the match and came agonizingly close in the 24th minute when Aiman Yahya dribbled his way into the final third before pulling back to find Albrikan, whose close-range effort was blocked by defender Alibek Davronov.

Uzbekistan responded two minutes later with captain Jasurbek Jaloliddinov whipping in a curling corner kick to force goalkeeper Nawaf Alaqidi into making his first save of the match.

The hosts should have opened the scoring in the 33rd minute when Ulugbek Khoshimov’s lob over the Saudi defenders found a surging Hojimat Erkinov, but the Pakhtakor midfielder failed to get his strike on target.

It seemed like the tide had turned in Saudi Arabia’s favor in the 39th minute when Ahmed Alghamdi was brought down by Davronov in the area, but after an extensive VAR review, the penalty decision was overturned as Albrikan had been offside at the start of the play.

Jaloliddinov and Saidazamat Mirsaidov then threatened with strikes from distance, but it was Uzbekistan goalkeeper Vladimir Nazarov who ended the half strongly as he showed quick feet and hands to deny Ayman Yahya’s header from going in.

Saudi Arabia clearly benefited from the 15-minute breather as they came out the brighter and four minutes into the restart, Hamad Al Yami picked out an unmarked Alghamdi at the edge of the box, who then dribbled past Mirsaidov, before firing past an outstretched Nazarov to break the deadlock.

Uzbekistan surged forward in search of the equalizer with head coach Timur Kapadze sending on Ruslanbek Jiyanov and Odilbek Abdumajidov in the 57th minute to give his side more potency upfront.

Jaloliddinov, however, remained Uzbekistan’s best hope and the skipper almost replicated his stunning goal in the semi-final against Japan in the 63rd minute, only to miss by mere inches.

Uzbekistan thought they had equalized in the 71st minute when Jiyanov collected Jaloliddinov’s through pass before slotting past goalkeeper Nawaf Alqidi, but the linesman had his flag raised for offside.

The young Green Falcons, however, remained cool under pressure and hit Uzbekistan for a second time in the 74th minute as substitute Turki Alammar played a perfectly weighted through ball to Albrikan, whose well placed shot sealed the proceedings as Saudi Arabia ended their long wait for the title. — SG

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