SYDNEY: Birthday boy Wang Dalei’s penalty stop helped China upset Saudi Arabia 1-0 as a string of top saves made all the difference at the Asian Cup on Saturday.South Korea and Uzbekistan also had their goalkeepers to thank as they both won by the same 1-0 scoreline on a cliff-hanging day two in Australia.
Surprise result of the day belonged to China, who edged three-time winners Saudi Arabia in Brisbane courtesy of Yu Hai’s deflected second half free kick.
Just moments before the goal Wang, who was celebrating his 26th birthday, kept China in it when he dived to his left to save Naif Hazazi’s tame penalty.
Victory put a huge smile on the face of China and coach Alain Perrin’s, who have never won the Asian Cup and will now be eyeing their first appearance in the knockout stages since hosting the tournament in 2004.
“Our tactics worked very well, we hit them on the counter-attack, which caused a lot of trouble to our opponents,” Perrin told reporters. “The match was very, very difficult for us but we gained a lot of joy from it. We’ve been preparing for this tournament for a long time.”
South Korea, World Cup semifinalists in 2002 but seeking a first Asian title in 55 years, got off to an unconvincing start as they beat Oman 1-0 through Cho Young-Cheol’s strike in stoppage time at the end of the first half in Canberra.
English-based goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi produced some quality saves but had a moment to forget as he parried a rebound to Cho, who gobbled up the chance with a clinical finish.
But Korean shot-stopper Kim Jin-Hyeon later superbly tipped Imad Al Hosni’s header onto the bar to ensure the Taeguk Warriors came away with all three points.
Oman coach Paul Le Guen was left fuming at referee Peter O’Leary’s decision to wave away a penalty appeal when Qasim Saeed looked to have been brought down in the box.
“I don’t want to have an advantage — no, no. I ask for equity,” stormed the Frenchman. “It’s a 100 percent penalty, no hesitation. But (we didn’t get it) because of what? Because we are Oman? It’s a very, very bad decision at this level.”
Uzbekistan also relied heavily on goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov as they ground out a 1-0 win over unfancied North Korea in torrential rain.
Nesterov saw little action in the Group B tie but he was alert enough to acrobatically palm away Pak Kwang-Ryong’s powerful header just before the final whistle.
Man-of-the-Match Igor Sergeev’s 62nd-minute header was the only score of a game hit by a mid-match downpour, but Uzbekistan deserved their win in Sydney.
Twice Asian player of the year Server Djeparov set up the goal as the 2011 semifinalists showed they could be ready for another assault on the Asian Cup’s latter stages.
“I’d like to thank our goalkeeper, it was a great save,” said Uzbek coach Mirdjalal Kasimov. “But it was a victory of the whole team, I’m happy with all my players.”
The Asian Cup features 32 matches and concludes in Sydney on Jan. 31.
UAE vs Qatar (10.00 A.M. KSA time)
Iran vs Bahrain (12 ‘noon, KSA)