January 7 – With Iran having set down an emphatic marker with their 5-0 win over Yemen, the battle between the two other group D teams Iraq and Vietnam assumes even greater importance in the bid to secure the top two automatic last 16 qualifying slots.
Iraq’s Srecko Katanec and Vietnam’s Park Hang-seo (pictured) have both backed their teams to open with wins.
The Vietnamese enjoyed a blockbuster 2018 reaching the U-23 Asian Cup final, playing the semi-finals of the Asian Games and winning the Suzuki Cup at the expense of Malaysia. Their South Korean coach Hang-seo acknowledged the scrutiny of the team will be greater at the Asian Cup, but quoted last year’s performances as a source of confidence for the Vietnamese.
“Our group is hard with three tough teams but we have worked hard and will do our best to get a result,” he said. “Obviously, we had a very good 2018 and the confidence in the team is very high. The people of Vietnam are also expecting more from us which means pressure as well as confidence for the team.”
“However, we have worked very hard since the AFF Cup. Our focus has been on the AFC Asian Cup and the players are highly motivated. Iraq will be a challenge, as will Iran and Yemen. They are all good sides but so are we and we are looking to have a successful AFC Asian Cup.”
Srecko Katanec, Iraq’s head coach, also has reasons to be optimistic. The Slovenian arrived in Iraq in October and slowly built a team that should be very competitive in the tournament. In recent friendlies they have drawn with both Saudi Arabia and Boliva, and defeated Palestine 1-0.
“What I can say is that we are prepared,” said Katanec. “Our camp was good and the players are where I want them to be.”
“The first match is always very important and that is what our focus is on now. If you ask me for a target, I will tell you that it is to win every game and if we do that, you know what it means at the end.”
“We have qualities and if our players give everything, we will play a good game. About the result, you never know but I am very confident with the team.”
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1580196107labto1580196107ofdlr1580196107owedi1580196107sni@o1580196107fni1580196107