DOHA: Australia came alive in the second half to kick off their AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ with a 2-0 win over India on Saturday.

Having been frustrated in the opening period, goals from Jackson Irvine and Jordan Bos secured the points for an Australian side seeking to win the continental title for a second time.

The match at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium with 35,253 fans in attendance had a historic touch as Yoshimi Yamashita became the first woman to referee an AFC Asian Cup match, with the Japanese assisted by her compatriots  Makoto Bozono and Naomi Teshirogi.

Australia started strongly, creating two chances in the opening minutes with Aziz Behich shooting wide after he was given time and space outside the box while Mitch Duke could not get his header on target from a Craig Goodwin free-kick.

Against the run of play, India could have taken the lead in the 16th minute after good work from Nikhil Poojary on the right flank created a crossing opportunity that found Sunil Chhetri unmarked but the 39-year-old attacker’s diving header went wide of the mark.

At the other end, a poor clearance by Gurpreet Singh five minutes later as he was being closed down by Duke saw Australia win the ball high up the pitch but the lanky Bengaluru FC goalkeeper recovered quickly to stop Connor Metcalfe’s goal-bound shot.

The Socceroos continued to be on the offensive for the rest of the half but were let down by poor finishing and resilient defending, failing to make their 11 corner kicks count.

Australia, however, only needed five minutes into the restart to find the breakthrough – albeit with a helping hand from Gurpreet who pushed a Martin Boyle cross straight to Irvine who calmly slotted home.

India had a half chance in the 69th minute when an innocuous challenge in the middle of the pitch saw the ball spinning behind Australian custodian Mathew Ryan, only for the ball to roll away.

India’s hopes were dashed four minutes later as 2015 AFC Asian Cup champions Australia doubled their lead with two substitutes working in tandem – Ryan McGree skipping past Subhasish Bose before laying the ball for Bos to tap in from close range.

Uzbekistan held

Also in Group B a resilient Syria held Uzbekistan to a 0-0 draw in their AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ Group B tie at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium on Saturday.

The dropped points would have disappointed a dominant Uzbekistan side, with Australia the early pacesetters in the group following their 2-0 win over India earlier on Saturday.

Uzbekistan set the early pace, Otabek Shukurov’s long-range shot just missing the mark within the opening minute.

Abduqodir Khusanov then found Hojimat Erkinov outside the box but the latter’s right footed shot went wide to the left.

Srecko Katanec-led Uzbekistan ramped up the pressure as the first half continued with the likes of Sukurov and Hojimat Erkinov leading their charge for the opening goal.

Syria, ranked 91st in the world, may have started out shakily but started to grow into the game as they maintained a resolute defensive line.

Five minutes before the break, Syria got an opportunity to take the lead when their talisman Ammar Ramadan found himself in an opportunistic position but his shot from just outside the box failed to change the scoreline.

Uzbekistan kicked off the second half on a similar offensive note, with captain Jaloliddin Masharipov setting up Otabek Shukurov who, however, squandered the opportunity.

Just minutes later, Abbosbek Fayzullaev failed to steer midfielder Oston Urunov’s pass past the Syrian goalkeeper, despite finding space among a number of red shirts.

As the clock hit the hour mark, Uzbekistan earned a free-kick in an opportune position but Sukurov’s attempt was deftly dealt with by Syrian goalkeeper Ahmad Madanieh who blocked the effort without much difficulty.

Madanieh continued to remain busy between the sticks with substitute Sherzod Nasrullayev posing a threat outside the Syrian box but the Syrian skipper was quick to collect the ball to safety.

The stalemate continued when, with 25 minutes remaining, Syrian midfielder Ibrahim Hesar found the back of the Uzbekistan net but was ruled offside.

Both sides made several attempts to get a last-ditch goal but had to be satisfied with a point apiece.

Syria meet Australia next while Uzbekistan will face India in Wednesday’s other tie.

China draw

In Group A Tajikistan came away from their first-ever AFC Asian Cup™ match with a valuable point after holding China PR to a 0-0 draw at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium.

With Qatar having beaten Lebanon 3-0 in the opening match, the hosts now top Group A, while the debutants from central Asia will be encouraged by their spirited performance against Team Dragon.

Coach Petar Segrt’s men dominated play throughout the first half, ending their first 45 minutes of AFC Asian Cup football with 12 shots to their opponents’ three, more possession and more passes completed.

The Tajik crowd thought their side had taken the lead in the 26th minute when Alisher Dzhalilov picked up Ehson Panjshanbe’s pass inside the box and fired a low effort that ended up just wide on the wrong side of the Chinese upright.

Goalkeeper Yan Junling had to show the best of his abilities just after the half-hour mark as he was forced into a diving save to parry away Dzhalilov’s squeezed left-footed strike from inside the box.

China finally had their first sight of the Tajik goal 10 minutes before the break when the ball fell to Wang Qiuming following a corner kick, and the midfielder struck it on the half-volley, with the ball looking destined for the back of the net before it was blocked by a heroic Menucheckhr Safarov who threw his body on the way.

Safarov nearly delivered at the other end of the pitch when he charged forward to meet Dzhalilov’s pass down the right, but his effort could not find its way to the Chinese target.

It was more one-way traffic as the second half got underway with Dzhalilov going for the spectacular but his volleyed attempt to meet Panjshanbe’s cross from the right was blocked and went behind for a corner.

Coach Aleksandar Jankovic, looked to revive his team’s attacking fortunes by introducing fresh legs into the pitch and the China boss was rewarded for his tinkering with an avalanche of attacks in the final 15 minutes.

Substitute Xie Pengfei rose highest to head a cross from the left into the path of Liu Binbin who squeezed it past the Tajik goalkeeper from a tight angle only for defender Zoir Dzhuraboev to clear it off the goal-line.

With 10 minutes left, Xu Xin, also coming off the bench, curled an effort from 25 yards out, only for it to be parried away by a flying Rustam Yatimov save into a corner that was crossed for Zhu Chenjie who headed it into the back of the net, only for the goal to be overturned following a VAR review.

With a point each to start their respective campaigns, Tajikistan take on hosts Qatar at Al Bayt Stadium next, while China play Lebanon at Al Thumama Stadium in the other Wednesday fixture of the group.