Vietnam suffer extra-time defeat to Uzbekistan in AFC U23 final
Vietnam's hearts were broken as Andrey Sidorov struck the winning goal in the final minute of extra-time to give Uzbekistan victory in a snowy AFC U23 Championship final in China.
The Southeast Asian side had recovered from conceding an early goal to Rustamjon Ashurmatov's header as Quang Hai struck a superb free kick to level the score at 1-1.
It remained deadlocked until the 119th minute, when Sidirov, who had just come on as a substitute, volleyed home from close range to seal the title for the Uzbeks.
It was a painful blow for gallant Vietnam, who had upset the odds by emerging from their group ahead of Australia and Syria, before knocking out Iraq and Qatar in penalty shootouts to reach the final.
But Uzbekistan's route had been equally arduous and more stylish, seeing off China in the group stage before emphatic victories over Japan and South Korea.
Although the pitch in Changzhou had been deemed playable, it was covered in snow, and it was difficult at times to see the Uzbek players in their white shirts against the surface.
But Uzbekistan quickly settled and got their reward by taking an early lead.
In the eight minute, Ashurmatov evaded his marker and powered home a header from Dostonbek Khamdamov's corner.
The Vietnamese had their first effort on goal in the 15th minute, but Quang Hai's header was always going high.
Uzbekistan remained in the ascendancy and Tien Dung managed to gather a deflected shot from Khamdamov at the second attempt.
In the 24th minute, ground staff were allowed onto the pitch to clear the lines, with heavy snow having started to cover them up.
And Vietnam may have got lucky in the 32nd minute when Zabikhillo Uriboev went down after a lunging challenge from Dinh Trong in the box. Although it looked a decent penalty claim, the referee wasn't interested.
Vietnam made the most of the let off when they equalised in the 41st minute with a wonderful strike. Cong Phuong created the opportunity when he drew a foul on the edge of the box. Quang Hai then stepped up to curl the free kick into the top corner, sending the Vietnamese fans wild.
There was a break of almost an hour at half-time to allow a comprehensive clearing of snow from the pitch, and Uzbekistan re-emerged wearing a more sensible blue shirt.
Khamdamov soon had Tien Dung scrambling across his goal to save his powerful long-range strike.
And the Vietnam keeper then pulled off an outstanding save to deny Javokhir Sidikov after the Uzbek playmaker had skilfully created space for a low shot.
But, as in the first half, Uzbekistan threatened less as the game wore on and the Vietnamese looked comfortable.
But Urinboev squandered an excellent chance to retake the lead with seven minutes remaining. The Uzbekistan skipper struck his shot high over the bar from eight yards out after Tien Dung had spilled a cross into his path.
Sidikov had a couple of tame efforts as the Uzbeks pushed for the winner but the final whistle blew without the well-drilled Vietnamese defence being breached for a second time.
Play was understandably laboured in the first period of extra time, with neither side able to string together a fluid passage of play or create a clear opening.
Vietnam almost stole it with five minutes remaining when Xuan Truong's cross was headed just wide by Van Quy.
But the resilience of the Vietnamese was finally broken in the last minute of added time when Sidorov volleyed home the winning goal from Khamdamov's corner.
It was tough on Vietnam, but there was also a sense that they had run out of luck as Uzbekistan were rewarded for being the more enterprising side from the start.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK