AL KHOR — Qatar’s shootout hero Meshaal Barsham credited “anticipation and luck” as the hosts and holders moved into an Asian Cup semifinal against Iran after beating Uzbekistan on penalties on Saturday.
Goalkeeper Barsham saved three times in the shootout as Qatar won 3-2 after a 1-1 draw at the end of extra time in their quarterfinal.
Pedro Miguel dispatched their final penalty to spark wild celebrations in front of almost 60,000 fans at the tent-like Al-Bayt Stadium north of Doha.
The triumphant Qatar players tossed Barsham in the air at the end but the goalkeeper said fortune was on his side.
“With penalties there is some anticipation and there is some luck,” he said. “Thankfully I got lucky and saved three penalties.”
Qatar’s opponents in the semifinal will be Iran, who beat pre-tournament favourites Japan 2-1 in the day’s earlier quarterfinal.
Qatar also missed twice in the shootout, with Almoez Ali seeing his kick saved and Almahdi Ali blazing horribly over.
But Barsham made it look easy, especially in holding his ground in the middle of the goal to stop Uzbekistan’s fifth spotkick from Jaloliddin Masharipov.
“I’ve played against him before with my club so I expected him to shoot down the middle,” said Barsham.
Qatar had won their four previous games at the tournament but they were given a stiffer test by Uzbekistan, who some had tipped as dark horses to lift the trophy.
Qatar opened the scoring midway through the first half when captain Hassan Al-Haydos forced an own goal from goalkeeper Utkir Yusupov.
Uzbekistan levelled just before the hour when Odiljon Hamrobekov broke free of the Qatar defence and drilled a shot into the corner of the net.
Qatar won the Asian Cup for the first time in 2019 and went into the game on a run of 11 straight wins in the competition.
Coach Tintin Marquez, who took over from Carlos Queiroz only a month before the tournament began, said they had “not accomplished anything yet” as they prepare to face Iran on Wednesday.
“Of course it is a very big match that awaits us but first we need to recover because the game went into extra time,” said the Spaniard.
“First we will enjoy what happened today and then we will start preparing for the next game.”
Uzbekistan were looking to reach the Asian Cup semifinals for the second time in their history.
They did not quite manage it and while coach Srecko Katanec was proud of his team, he said they “should have scored before so that we didn’t go to penalties”.
“Penalties are always tricky, especially mentally,” he said.
“They should benefit from this (long term) but we’re out. This is football and we have to accept it. They have to be proud.”
Masharipov’s weak kick down the middle was one of several poor penalties by Uzbekistan, but Katanec refused to blame his players.
“They were tired and mentally exhausted, that’s it,” he said. “We can’t do it in training because there are not 50,000 people there and we are not tired.”
Qatar started strongly and broke the deadlock in the 27th minute when Haydos wriggled clear in the box and hit a shot from a tight angle that Yusupov fumbled into his own net.
Uzbekistan equalised in the 59th minute when Hamrobekov latched onto a loose ball and surged into the box before hitting his shot across Barsham and in.
Both teams had chances to snatch a winner in second-half injury time. — AFP