Hosts Qatar play Uzbekistan with an eye on AFC Asian Cup semifinal spot

Hosts Qatar play Uzbekistan with an eye on AFC Asian Cup semifinal spot

QLNews
By QLNews

Saturday, which marks the second and last day of quarterfinal matches of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, promises some mouth-watering contests.

Iran will take on four-time champions Japan in a thrilling tie at the Education City Stadium. The contest between two of the tournament’s strongest teams has all the makings of a classic encounter.

Qatar are hoping to become only the second team in history, after Japan, to successfully defend their Asian title. They will seek to take another step towards this dream when they face Uzbekistan in a crunch tie at the Al Bayt Stadium.

Even with the full weight of the crowd’s support behind them, it will be a tough contest for the hosts.

With so much at stake, here is a look at how the four teams are preparing for their quarterfinal matches.

IRAN VS JAPAN

Kick-off: 2:30pm
Venue: Education City Stadium

Hajime Moriyasu expects his Japan side to advance to the semifinals of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar, just as they did in five of the last six editions of the continental showpiece.

Standing in their way are Iran, with the Samurai Blue holding an unbeaten record against their opponents at the AFC Asian Cup (two wins and two draws).

Moriyasu, while confident of Japan’s chances, said his side will not make the mistake of underestimating Iran, despite the absence of star striker Mehdi Taremi due to suspension.

“Obviously it’ll be a very tough match due to the schedule, but whatever the circumstances, we’ve to perform. I think Iran have the same number of rest days,  just that we’ve played less minutes. It’s a match between two big teams in Asia, so I’m really looking forward to it,” said Moriyasu.

“Every match, we’ve conceded at least one goal, which isn’t something we want. In every game, we made mistakes, and we need to adjust these small things so that we can win the match. Taremi may be suspended, but they still have (Sardar) Azmoun as well as other attacking players who can hurt us,” added the coach.

The clash of the Asian footballing heavyweights, who share seven AFC Asian Cup titles between them, will be an equally captivating one for Iran head coach Ardeshir Ghalehnoy.

Ghalehnoy’s side were pushed to the limit by Syria before winning their Round of 16 tie on penalties, with recovery being the main focus for the 60-year-old former Esteghlal FC head coach.

“This could’ve been the final, but now we face off in the quarterfinal. Japan are a very good team and now, in the knockout stage, they’re showing a much better performance than they showed in the group stage,” said Ghalehnoy.

“But Iran are a good team as well. We did really well against Syria. We’ve less recovery than Japan. We could’ve finished the match early against Syria, but we lost a lot of opportunities. Eighty million people are following the result of the national team, and the players know that. We’ll give everything,” he said.

QATAR VS UZBEKISTAN

Kick-off: 6:30pm
Venue: Al Bayt Stadium

Srecko Katanec is confident his Uzbekistan players know how to deliver the performance required to overcome champions Qatar in the quarterfinals as the Central Asians look to progress to the last four for the first time since 2011.

Uzbekistan defeated Qatar in the opening game of the AFC Asian Cup the last time the tournament was played in the West Asian country before going on to reach the semifinals, where they were eventually knocked out by Australia.

After impressing at the current edition of the continental showpiece, Katanec is putting his faith in his players to deliver another strong performance when they take on Marquez Lopes’ hosts at Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday.

“My job is to prepare the team as best I can. We’ve been together two-and-a-half years, and if they don’t know how to play now it’ll be wrong, but I’m confident they know. They know we’ve to be organised,” said the Slovenian.

Katanec praised the performance of Diyor Kholmatov in the win over Thailand in the Round of 16 as the 21-year-old Pakhtakor midfielder made his first start at international level and insists he is maintaining his approach of not looking beyond the next match.

“When we started this Asian Cup, I said I know the situation, that we go game by game. Tomorrow is another game. We did well, but it was what it was, so we’ll try to do our best,” he said.

The Uzbeks will be faced by a capacity crowd at the stadium as home fans continue to throw their support behind Lopes’ team with Qatar looking to become the first nation since Japan in 2004 to successfully defend the title.

“We’ve reached what we’re looking for, we’re in the quarterfinals, and if anyone thinks we can’t make it to the final that’s up to them,” the Spaniard, a late appointment in December to replace Carlos Queiroz, said.

“There’s no negative pressure on the players, they’re well motivated. They want to win. There’s going to be positive pressure for us to achieve in this very difficult game.”

Qatar have reached the quarterfinals in impressive form, winning four games in a row, scoring seven times, and conceding just once, with key individuals such as former AFC Player of the Year Akram Afif and captain Hassan Al Haydos shining in particular.

“We’ve talented players, and we’ve fast players, possibly the fastest in the competition. But this is going to be a very physical game,” said Lopes.

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