January 30 – Syria will rely on their own strengths and philosophy against Iran in the round of 16, said manager Hector Cuper on the eve of their second-round encounter.
For the first time in history, the Syrians will feature in the last 16 of the tournament after finishing third in Group B behind both Australia and Uzbekistan.
They now take on three-time champions Iran, who were one of just two teams to maintain a perfect record in the group stages.
Jordan and Tajikistan may serve as inspiration for Syria as both countries upset the odds in their round of 16 matches to progress to the last eight and Cuper said his side will stick to what they know best as they explore uncharted territory.
“In football, there are always surprises, but we don’t have to change our formation, concentration and focus for this,” said Cuper (pictured).
“Football has things that don’t have a common explanation. You have to believe in your work, in what you say, in your teammates, and in solidarity. Everything is possible to win a football match. There are surprise results but that doesn’t mean we have to change.”
The teams meet for a second time at the Asian Cup. In 1980, they played out a goalless draw and today Syria maintain excellence in defense having conceded just a single goal in the group stages, but their backline will be tested severely when faced with the Iranian firepower of both Mehdi Taremi and Sardar Azmoun, who ply their trade in Europe’s top leagues.
“The expectations are very positive but we will have to tweak some things,” added Cuper. “What I always say before a match, is we are not going to change things.”
His Iranian counterpart Amir Ghalenoei praised the hardworking Syrians and cautioned his team, heavy favourites, against making mistakes.
“Cuper had the same style of football in Valencia and his other clubs, but we have improved a lot,” said Ghalenoei, who confirmed that both Sadegh Moharrami and Morteza Pouraliganj won’t be available. “We changed the whole philosophy of the team from a defensive style to an attacking style. You can check the stats of our possession in the group stage.”
“We should make fewer mistakes and be tactically and technically better than in our previous two matches. We know that we can’t afford to make any mistakes, we saw Iraq and the UAE get eliminated, so we need to be very careful with our performance.”
The winner will go on to play Japan or Bahrain in the last eight.
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