AFC Futsal Championship: Thailand maintain charge as Uzbeks get back on track (14 May 2007)

OSAKA: Two-time AFC Futsal Championship finalists Uzbekistan have kept their hopes alive of making it to the knock-out stage with a 4-0 win over Kuwait while Thailand inched closer to the last eight phase beating Iraq 7-4 at the Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium here on Monday.

Abdulla Buriev and Ilhom Yusupdjanov netted the Uzbeks’ first goals from open play at the tournament in the first half, before Farruh Zakirov and Buriev again added goals in the second.

Uzbekistan’s shock defeat to Iraq yesterday was their first opening day loss at the Championships since 2002 and coach Damir’s charges seemed hell bent on restoring their battered pride.

Opponents Kuwait were competitive throughout and possibly misrepresented by the margin of the defeat – in accordance with their earlier performance against group high flyers Thailand.

However, there was to be no denying the wounded Uzbeks, who now go into tomorrow’s match up with Thailand with a genuine chance of progression to the final eight should they claim maximum points.

Conversely, Kuwait’s second consecutive loss, and second consecutive match without scoring a goal, confirms that they will be among the first teams to depart Japan following tomorrow’s matches.

“I must say that today’s game was very difficult,” said Uzbekistan assistant coach Pavel Bezglyadnov.

“I feel that the level of Asian futsal is becoming better, we’ve played Kuwait previously, but it was much easier.”

“After our loss yesterday, all of our players tried very hard to win and were rewarded with three points.”

In the same group, Thailand all but secured their quarterfinal berth after downing Iraq 7-4.

Ekkaphan Suratsawang’s first half hat trick was added to by Sermphan Khumthinkaew and Ekapong Suratsawang – captain Panuwat Janta netted two.

Iraq’s tally came from outstanding 24-year-old striker Hashim Kadhim – arguably the standout player of the tournament thus far, who claimed his third goal of the meet in the 20th minute, along with Hussein Ali, Abdul Karim Radi and an own goal by Thai captain Janta.

Despite flashes of individual brilliance from Hashim and strike partner Abdul Karim, Thailand were always in charge of a match they controlled from the outset with their efficient passing and inventive interplay.

Iraq were left to lament the loss of suspended goalkeeper Utayl Abdulqader, whose performance against Uzbekistan yesterday was one of the outstanding individual contributions of the first day of competition.

Aside from Utayl’s forced absence, Iraq were an unchanged side from that which upset Uzbekistan 3-1 twenty hours earlier, while Thailand coach Pattaya Piemkum kept faith with his starting five that had trounced Kuwait 8-0 in the opening match of Group B.

“Each game is very different and each game we encounter different tactics from opposition teams, for instance today against Iraq was very physical and they played the long ball quite a lot,” said Thailand boss Piemkum after the match.

“There were times in the first and second half where we lost our balance and concentration, but we adjusted things and put together a good performance.”

Iraq’s third strike of the match, scored by Abdul Karim, was their landmark 100th goal in the history of the Championships.

Ultimately though, the Iraqi number ten and his team mates were unable to prevent Thailand extend their streak of positive results against Iraq, which now reads four wins from four attempts.

Such has been the manner of Thailand’s performances over the opening match day’s, the recently crowned ASEAN futsal champions will be confident be improving upon their previous best Championships finish -third place in 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004.

Next up for Thailand is Uzbekistan, who may require no less than a win to have a chance of qualifying for the second stage, while Iraq can all but confirm their appearance in the quarter finals with three points against Kuwait.