January 29 – Someone is going to lose their no-loss record in tomorrow’s last 16 clash, with unbeaten Uzbekistan and Thailand set to lock horns at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar.
Uzbekistan launched into the round of 16 after an impressive group stage, where the Uzbek’s started slow but revived to beat India and hold the high-flying Aussies to a 1-1 draw.
“We played well in the group stages, but I’m looking just game by game. Tomorrow we have a very difficult game against Thailand. They are organised, they have a strong press and they will be hard to beat,” said Uzbekistan coach Srecko Katanec (pictured).
“The players we do have, will have to do their best.”
With his team not taking to the pitch in seven days, Katanec reiterated the importance of momentum in the tournament setting.
“After seven days since we last played, we have had almost too much time to prepare. You never know if it’s better to play after three days or a week! We are ready, lets see tomorrow what we can do.”
“The extra time didn’t help us with injuries as the current injuries will take much longer to recover.”
Experienced midfielder Uzbek Odiljon Xamrobekov, who played almost every minute of Uzbekistan’s group stage, showed confidence in his team’s ability to overcome Thailand’s unblemished defence and reach the quarter finals.
“The competition is entering a very interesting stage, we will play against a disciplined team tomorrow and we are ready,” said Xamrobekov.
“Currently we only think about Thailand. The games yesterday showed anything is possible so we need to stay focused. We want to go as far as possible and always put maximum effort into achieving our objectives.”
Xamrobekov spoke of maintaining discipline and suggested that the match would be as much of a mental battle as a physical one.
“The opposition has a great defence, they conceded zero goals in the group. We are also unbeaten and have a great defence. The team that is more organised and more disciplined will win this game.”
Since the start of Uzbekistan’s Asian Cup journey, the side has been struck by a series of injuries to their forward line which has hampered their goalscoring threat. In-form attackers Sergeev and Fayzullayev will likely watch from the sidelines on Tuesday due to injury concerns, which will be a big miss for Uzbekistan.
Despite Uzbekistan’s confidence, Thailand manager Masatada Ishii, who kept his cards close to his chest throughout the pre-match conference, backed his team to make the leap to the quarter finals.
“As we qualified, we got five points and met our objective,” he said.
“We try to foresee the opponent, Uzbekistan have a very strong defensive team. When they attack, they move to deep spaces so we are aware of their plan.
“We haven’t conceded many goals and the players deserve credit. From now on we know what we need to do and we try to meet our own expectations.”
Elias Dolah, who was a key player in maintaining Thailand’s flawless defensive record, feels ready to take on his team’s biggest challenge yet.
“We are really ready. Last game, we were able to switch to a full XI and come out with a good performance against Saudi Arabia. We are all prepared and look forward to the challenge ahead in the knockout stage,” he said.
“We haven’t conceded a goal yet and thats all thanks to the coach’s etailed plan. The same going into this match, we will be detailed and have a game plan. We will look to keep a tight defence and if we can score, that’s a bonus.
“We are going to reach the next stage, that’s our target.”
Thailand progressed to the round of 16 after finishing second in Group F, achieved by an early victory over Kyrgyz Republic followed by consecutive draws against Oman and Saudi Arabia. Entering the round of 16 as underdogs, Thailand are looking to make a statement for south-east Asian sides after Indonesia were knocked out by Australia at the same stage on Sunday afternoon.
“Our group matches have been against teams that are ranked higher than us. This next game is no different. Our coach has a belief in all our players. His belief transfers into us players and we have a strong feeling we can win this game.”
“It is very easy to be motivated. Yes, we have reached our primary target but the coach is determined to have four more games. Ishii believes in us and motivates our whole squad, we believe we can go all the way.”
Contact the writer of this story, Harry Ewing, at email@example.com