Uzbekistan and Japan qualify for men’s Olympic football by reaching U23 Asian Cup final

By AP   April 29, 2024 | 05:28 pm PT
Uzbekistan and Japan qualify for men’s Olympic football by reaching U23 Asian Cup final
Indonesia (red jersey) during an attacking attempt against Uzbekistan in the U23 Asian Cup quarterfinal game on April 29, 2024. Photo by AFC
Uzbekistan qualified for men’s Olympic football after years of near-misses by reaching the U23 Asian Cup final.

The Uzbeks beat Indonesia 2-0 in the semifinals on Monday in Doha, Qatar, and will face Japan for the title on Friday.

Japan secured an eighth consecutive Olympic appearance with a 2-1 win over Iraq.

The top three teams qualify automatically for the Paris Games, and Iraq and Indonesia will meet in Thursday’s playoff to decide the remaining place.

Uzbekistan has had an unlucky run. It won the biennial Asian tournament in the non-Olympic years of 2018 and 2022. In 2020, the team finished fourth, missing out on the Tokyo Games after losing the playoff against Australia.

There was no heartbreak this time. After Indonesia found the back of the net but had a goal disallowed for offside, Khusain Norchaev scored midway through the second half to give Uzbekistan the lead.

Indonesia’s hopes of an equalizer were set back when Rizky Ridho was sent off in the 84th, leaving his team with 10 men. Uzbekistan doubled the margin four minutes from time when Pratama Arhan conceded an own goal.

Uzbekistan captain Abdurauf Buriev was delighted to secure a historic Olympic berth but still wanted the Asian title.

"It’s a very big moment in my career but I cannot say anything (more) because it was a very emotional match and we still have one game to prepare for," the midfielder said. "There was no pressure on me by being the captain, it gave me some additional motivation and I focused on the game and obtaining the victory."

Japan scored twice in the first half to take control against Iraq, with captain Joel Fujita instrumental in creating chances for Mao Hosoya and Ryotaro Araki.

The Indonesia-Iraq loser will face Guinea in a playoff in May with a place in Paris at stake.

Indonesia, which upset Australia in the group stage and then edged South Korea in a shootout after their quarterfinal finished 2-2, is aiming to reach the Olympic tournament for the first time since the 1956 Games in Melbourne, Australia.

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