A late Oleg Zoteev winner shattered Syrian hopes and kept Uzbekistan in line for their first ever Olympic appearance with a 2-1 Asian play-off win on Tuesday.
Syria looked to have secured their second 1-1 draw in the three-team round robin in Hanoi, after Sunday’s stalemate with Oman, until Zoteev’s 88th-minute strike sent them tumbling out of contention.
Uzbekistan now need only a draw in the final fixture against Oman on Thursday to progress to an April 23 play-off against Senegal for a place at the London Games. The Uzbeks have three points and Oman have one.
Uzbekistan started the brighter but it was Syria who grabbed the lead when the unmarked Yasser Shahen ran on to a booming goal-kick, letting it bounce over his shoulder and calmly hitting a half-volley over Uzbek goalie Akbar Turaev on 14 minutes.
The Uzbeks regained their composure and they slowly turned the screws as striker Kenja Turaev glanced a header just wide before half-time. Zoteev also forced a diving save from Syrian stopper Ibrahim Alma after the break.
A long throw-in from the right finally unlocked the Syrian defence on 73 minutes as Temurkhuja Abdukholiqov flicked on at the near post and Turaev flung himself at the close-range header.
As the clock ticked down, Syria’s Ahmad Aldouni fired wide with the goal begging and he was made to rue the howler when with two minutes to go, Zoteev coolly rounded Alma and steered the decisive shot home from a tight angle.