Tajikistan stun UAE on penalties to move into Asian Cup quarterfinals

Asian Cup debutants Tajikistan upset the United Arab Emirates 5-3 in a penalty shootout on Sunday to advance to the quarterfinals and keep their dream run alive following a game ended 1-1 after extra time.

Tajikistan were on course to become the first team in 32 years to win their maiden knockout game in the tournament through Vahdat Hanonov's first-half goal before Khalifa Al Hammadi forced extra time with a stoppage-time header.

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In the shootout, UAE's Caio Canedo had his effort saved by goalkeeper Rustam Yatimov before Alisher Shukurov scored the decisive spot kick to create history for the central Asian nation.

Tajikistan are now only the second tournament debutants since Australia in 2007 to reach the quarterfinals, but this was a much bigger upset for the minnows compared to an established Australian team who made the switch to the AFC.

Ranked outside the top 100, the central Asian side managed by Petar Segrt sits 42 rungs below UAE, a team that had reached the semifinals in both the 2015 and 2019 editions.

"Nobody will sleep in Tajikistan tonight," a grinning Segrt told reporters. "At 1-1 in the 94th minute... everybody was feeling down, but I told the players quickly to get up. If you fall down, get up.

"I shouted at them, 'Come on, everything is possible. Don't give up.' This is the character of the player, the coaches, the country and their fighting spirit.

"In the end, it was also luck. I know my dream, my next dream is to go to the next round -- again."

After a cagey start, Tajikistan took the lead on the half-hour mark when Hanonov climbed over the defence to head home Zoir Dzhuraboev's cross, with the ball creeping over the line after UAE keeper Khalid Eisa attempted a save.

Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images

Tajikistan came out roaring in the second half too and had several opportunities on the counter-attack they failed to capitalise on against a shell-shocked UAE whose coach Paulo Bento cut a frustrated figure in the dugout.

Alisher Dzhalilov went very close to making it 2-0 when he got on the end of a cross at the far post, but blasted it wide while Nuriddin Khamrokulov saw a header from a corner fly to the right of the post.

UAE eventually made them pay in stoppage time when Al Hammadi headed home to force extra time as the fans of the Gulf country found their voice and the beat of their drums reached fever pitch.

But the UAE supporters were stunned into silence when Tajikistan converted all their spot kicks to spark wild celebrations from the dugout.

Segrt broke his glasses in the celebrations when they sealed qualification from the group stage and this time the Croatian was careful.

"I was lucky, I saw the players coming [to celebrate] and I went to the team manager and handed it to them saying, 'Save my glasses'," he said.

Tajikistan will find out their quarter-final opponents on Monday when Iraq face Jordan.

Bento said they could not control the game after losing midfielder Abdullah Ramadan to injury early in the first half and added that he did not care about the speculation surrounding his future after their exit.

"I said it would be a balanced game and that's what happened. Sometimes we focus too much on teams that lose, in this case it's important we congratulate the opponent," he said.

"They took advantage of their strengths and we were not able to avoid that. I wish them the best of luck for the rest of the competition."