Uzbekistan stun Saudis 3-1 to reach Asian Cup quarters

Melbourne (AFP) - Uzbekistan booked a place in the Asian Cup quarter-finals after beating Saudi Arabia 3-1 in a nail-biter on Sunday, a bullet header from Vokhid Shodiev helping them over the line.

The substitute's dramatic winner, which came after 70 minutes, averted a controversial denouement after Saudi Arabia had been awarded a soft penalty which cancelled out an early strike from two-goal hero Sardor Rashidov.

Uzbekistan, who reached the semi-finals of the last Asian Cup in 2011, will face South Korea in the last eight on Thursday, while three-times champions Saudi Arabia crash out at the group stage -- just as they did four years ago.

Tempers flared on the touchline after Rashidov had killed off the game with a clinical finish on the break 11 minutes from time in Melbourne, as over-exuberant Uzbek substitutes danced for joy in front of the Saudi bench.

Saudi Arabia had briefly looked to be heading for the draw they needed to join Group B winners China in the knockout stage after Australian referee Ben Williams gifted them a penalty which Mohammed Al Sahlawi converted on the hour-mark.

The official, blasted by Iran coach Carlos Queiroz earlier in the tournament, pointed to the spot after adjudging that Vitaliy Denisov had brought down striker Naif Hazazi.

Replays suggested that Hazazi had slumped to the turf without encouragement from Denisov, who looked to the heavens in anguish as the net bulged.

Moments later Williams, who refereed at last year's World Cup, ruled out an Uzbekistan goal for another phantom foul, sparking fury among the players in white.

Rashidov opened the scoring inside two minutes, capitalising on bumbling Saudi defending to score with a daisy-cutter which squeezed through the legs of goalkeeper Waleed Abullah.

But it was Shodiev who swung a see-saw match back in Uzbekistan's favour, climbing to head home a Shavkatjon Mulladjanov cross before racing off to the corner flag to celebrate wildly.

Rashidov's cool finish from a terrific cross iced the game, which ended in acrimony and a visit from a flock of seagulls.