Qatar coach Bruno Metsu was left dreaming of the Asian Cup title after the hosts thrashed Kuwait 3-0 to reach the quarter-finals on Sunday.
Uzbekistan joined Qatar in the last eight after they grabbed the point they needed in a 2-2 draw with China to top Group A with seven points from three matches, one ahead of Qatar with China third on four and Kuwait last with none.
Nearly 30,000 expectant fans turned out at the Khalifa Stadium hopeful that Qatar could match their tournament best performance of a quarter-final place achieved 11 years ago.
Their nerves were eased after just 11 minutes when captain Bilal Mohammed rose to confidently flick a header home after a good cross from Sebastian Suria.
The Kuwaitis looked stunned and the hosts doubled their advantage just five minutes later when Mohamed El Sayed curled a right foot shot in to the corner of the net as confetti rained down from the stands.
Substitute Fabio Cesar curled in a late 20-metre free-kick to add gloss to the victory and leave their French coach Metsu dreaming of glory.
“Why not?,” Metsu replied to reporters when asked if Qatar can win the tournament.
“We will strive to get the trophy and it is our right to dream and as you know I am a big dreamer.
“We are very satisfied and happy with this qualification. For us the Asian Cup starts now. It transfers from a mere accumulation of points to aiming for the trophy,” Metsu said.
The victory completed a big turnaround for Metsu who suffered heavy criticism after the stumbling 2-0 loss to Uzbekistan in their opening game.
“I would like to take this opportunity to say thanks to all Qatar officials for their trust in me after losing the first match against Uzbekistan and they did not resort to actions like the Saudi Football Federation,” Metsu said in reference to the Saudis sacking Jose Peseiro after their opening loss.
At the Al Gharafa Stadium, only 3,529 turned out to see Uzbekistan fall behind after just six minutes in their bid to reach the last eight for a third consecutive Asian championship.
China midfielder Yu Hai stooped low to head home after a well-worked corner.
The Uzbeks struck back, however, with a goal from marauding centre-half Odil Akhmedov who equalised on the half-hour mark after another neat passing move.
The Uzbeks took the lead straight after halftime when striker Alexander Geynrikh fired home from 23 metres but Hao Junmin hauled China level in the 56th minute with a free-kick to set up a nervy finale.
China coach Gao Hongbo grew more and more frustrated with the Uzbek time wasting as the East Asians looked for goals late on and was sent to the stands by the referee.
“You should ask the referee,” China’s assistant coach Fu Bo said of Gao’s dismissal.
Winning the group means Uzbekistan will face the second place team from Group B in the quarter-finals with Japan, Jordan and Syria the possible opponents but Uzbek coach Vadim Abramov was not looking ahead.
“I don’t care (who we play). All the teams in the next round are very strong."