Al Ain, United Arab Emirates: The Socceroos have scraped through to the Asian Cup quarter-finals on penalties, edging Uzbekistan in the shootout after 120 minutes of dire, scoreless football in Al Ain.
Australia simply could not find a way past the dogged central Asian outfit in a hugely frustrating round of 16 clash, with not even the second-half injection of a lively Mathew Leckie able to provide the solution in attack.
Despite enjoying 60 per cent of possession and taking 17 shots to Uzbekistan's seven - nine of them hitting the target - there was no joy up front for coach Graham Arnold's side.
Forced into extra time, they looked totally out of ideas, resorting to long balls in the hope one of them would slip through the guard of the White Wolves and get them into the tournament's final eight.
It ultimately came down to the lottery of a penalty shootout, where Mathew Ryan came up with two big saves to deny Islom Tukhtakhujaev and Marat Bikmaev before Leckie scored the clincher to seal a 4-2 win for Australia.
Players and coaches celebrated as if they had won the Asian Cup itself, but in truth there was nothing to rave about. The Socceroos went into the match as clear favourites against a team who had never scored a goal against them in three previous meetings, but were left wanting in many departments.
Arnold does not have long to fix the problems, with the team back in action on Friday night against host nation United Arab Emirates in the quarters - and they'll have to do it without Tom Rogic, their star playmaker.
Rogic was bizarrely shown a yellow card in the 20th minute by trigger-happy Qatari referee Abdulrahman Al-Jassim for accidentally stepping on Jalolidden Masharipov's foot as he attempted to nutmeg him. It was his second caution of the tournament, meaning the Celtic midfielder is suspended for Australia's next match.
It was a first half to forget for the Socceroos. Much like their defeat to Jordan in their Group B opener, they were painfully slow and languid in attack and static with their movement, but this time they also looked worryingly vulnerable in defence.
Uzbekistan's in-form striker Elder Shomurdov and diminutive midfielder Javokhir Sidikov looked dangerous every time they got the ball, combining well down the left to give fullback Rhyan Grant and central defender Trent Sainsbury - who came into the starting side for Massimo Luongo in the only change made by Arnold - repeated headaches.
Shomurdov got the first shot off in the 10th minute after a rapid counter-attack from the White Wolves. Cutting into the penalty box from the left, he was afforded far too much room to move by Sainsbury, jinking past him with ease before taking aim on goal. Fortunately for Australia, goalkeeper Mathew Ryan blocked Shomurdov's effort and then collected the ball after it spilled away.
It was an early warning but it wasn't heeded by the Socceroos, who were also dominated physically and aerially by their unfancied opponents as they continued to find space in behind. Uzbekistan's other good chance came in the 27th minute, when Sidikov fired off from distance with a shot that bounced narrowly past the left post.
Australia, meanwhile, had only two shots on goal before the break - and it was Grant, of all players, who had their first two of the second half as the defending champions started to awake from their slumber.
The best of them saw the Sydney FC defender make a cracking run which was picked out by Milos Degenek with a long diagonal ball - but his header across the face of goal was too high.
The Socceroos continued to tighten their grip on the match and the addition of Leckie in the 68th minute for his first appearance in the UAE gave them a boost. The experienced winger didn't wait long to make an impact, laying off to Rogic whose shot was so nearly diverted into the net by Jamie Maclaren.
Leckie had a crack from outside the box with a rocket that had to be punched away by Nesterov - then, in the 77th minute, made a mazy run into the box before another attempt which tested the Uzbek gloveman.
The half-chances kept on coming but the White Wolves, to their credit, did not yield and soaked up all the pressure. In the 86th minute, they nearly threw it back at Australia when a great cross from the left sat perfectly for Odil Ahmedov, only for his shot to be deflected wide.
Australia continued to maintain the upper hand through extra time but their best openings ended up in Nesterov's hands - or, in the case of Rogic's 105th minute curler, agonisingly wide. Uzbekistan seemed content to hang on for penalties, but they were left heartbroken at the end of them.