Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia eye winning starts at AFC Asian Cup

Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia eye winning starts at AFC Asian Cup

QLNews
By QLNews

Kyrgyzstan had blown the game’s pundits away when they reached the knockout stages of the AFC Asian Cup on debut, in 2019 UAE. And now, they are ready to repeat the feat in Doha.

Coach Stefan Tarkovic has called on his wards to make their intentions known by doing well against Thailand in their opening Group F clash at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia’s Italian coach Roberto Mancini will push his wards to learn lessons from his Euro 2020 winning Italy team as they gear up for their Group F game against Oman at the Khalifa International Stadium.

Here is a look at the different teams who will clash on Tuesday.

GROUP F
THAILAND VS KYRGYZSTAN

Kick-off: 5:30pm
Venue: Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium

Former Slovakia boss Stefan Tarkovic has had the good fortune of having an extended preparation for his team as they go in search of further upsets on the Asian stage.  

The White Falcons, ranked 15 places above Thailand, will use the game to get more confidence ahead of meetings with Saudi Arabia (January 21) and Oman (January 25).

“We prepared very well for the competition with nearly 40 days of training and matches. We played four build-up games, so the players are well-prepared, and we’re excited to start the first game,” said Tarkovic.

“We’re in a tough group. We played Oman in November while Saudi football is incredibly developed. Thailand is a bit difficult to judge as they recently changed their coach. But we’ve to show up and show what we can do,” he added.

Thailand, who replaced coach Alexandre Polking in late November with Japanese Masatada Ishii, will likely find the going difficult due to uncertainty in the team.

Ishii will also miss the likes of Teerasil Dangda, Chanathip Songkrasin and Supachok Sarachat from the team.

GROUP F
SAUDI ARABIA VS OMAN

Kick-off: 8:30pm
Venue: Khalifa International Stadium

Roberto Mancini, who led unfancied Italy to wins against powerhouses Belgium, Spain, and England enroute to the Euro 2020 title, wants Saudi players to give it their all and bring back the Asian crown for the fourth time in the country’s history.

“We’re here and we know we’re a big team, but this is also a very important tournament. We know there’re many top national teams and we want to do our best job,” said Mancini, who was only appointed as the Green Falcons’ boss in August 2023.

An influx of foreign superstars to the Saudi Pro League last summer meant playing opportunities became limited for many members of the Saudi squad.

Forward Saleh Al Shehri has made only four league appearances for his club all season, but Mancini said the group-stage matches would help them overcome the challenge.

“We’ve many players who often don’t play in their clubs, but we’ve had two weeks to work together. We’re happy with the players we’ve. We brought them because we know they’re ready to fight for their country, and we’ll also use the first three matches to improve their situation in terms of match fitness,” he said.

The former Inter, Manchester City and Italy boss has tweaked the team’s formation since his arrival, deploying a three-man defence in pre-tournament friendlies.

At the other end, Oman’s coach Branko Ivankovic has solid AFC Asian Cup experience, having led Iran to the semifinals in 2004. He wanted his team to look at past matches against the Saudis to try and surprise them.

“As Omanis, we come here with great passion. Our initial objective is to advance past the group stage. We start against the group’s strongest team, but we’ve played against them recently and played well. With all due respect to Saudi Arabia, we’ve proved many times that we can go toe-to-toe with any team we face, and the result will be decided on the pitch,” he said.

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