Tashkent: Uzbekistan went top of Group H after a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Philippines in their penultimate match in Preliminary Round 2 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup joint-qualifiers on Thursday lifted the Central Asians above DPR Korea.
Changchun Yatai defender Anzur Islaimov scored the only goal of the match just before the hour-mark in a game that saw the Philippines play the majority of the fixture with with ten men following the 10th minute sending off of Jose Porteria.
Uzbekistan dominated the early exchanges and after Egor Krimets had headed a free-kick over the bar, the Philippines were indebted to Neil Etheridge who held his nerve to deny Igor Sergeev a ninth-minute opener when the Pakhtakor striker - scorer of a brace in the Uzbeks’ 5-1 win over the Azkals in Bocaue City - was clean through on goal with only the Walsall keeper to beat.
Barely a minute later the Philippines were reduced to ten men when Jose Porteria was red-carded for a reckless challenge on Krimets and despite laying siege on the visitors defence for the remainder of the first half Uzbekistan were unable to break the deadlock in the first half thanks to the inspired for of Etheridge, who saved superbly from two-time AFC Player of the Year Server Djeparov, Odil Akhmedov, and Eldor Shomurodov.
China-based centre back Islaimov settled the nerves at the Bunyodkor Stadium when the former Bunyodkor defender headed home a 59th minute cross from Alexander Geynrikh, who came close to doubling the advantage as full time approached only for the 57th-minute substitute to strike the post with four minutes left on the clock.
The victory took Uzbekistan’s points tally to 18, two more than the North Koreans, while the Philippines remain on seven points with one round of Group H matches remaining.
Eight group winners will advance to the third round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, as well as straight to the 2019 Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates, along with the four best runners-up.
The other four runners-up will progress to the third round of qualifying for the Asian Cup, along with all the third-placed teams and the four best fourth-placed teams.
The remaining sides will have to negotiate past two rounds of playoffs for one of the final eight spots in the Asian Cup third qualifying round.