Korea Republic coach Cho Kwang-Rae has warned his side to expect motivated opponents in tomorrow's Asian Cup third-place play-off, as Uzbekistan seek a reaction to their 6-0 humiliation by Australia. Cho's team missed out on a place in the final when they lost in agonising fashion to Japan in their semi-final, going down 3-0 on penalties after an action-packed tie finished 2-2 at the end of extra-time.
Uzbekistan endured a thoroughly chastening experience in the other last-four tie, slumping to a demoralising defeat as the Socceroos booked their place in the final of the continental showpiece for the first time ever.
"Uzbekistan's game against Australia won't help for Friday's game, because Uzbekistan need to salvage their reputations," said Cho. "So they will prepare well and with a strong mentality to recover from the defeat in the semi-final. We need to treat this match like the first match of the Asian Cup. We are very tired, but I believe the players can overcome these obstacles with their strong mentalities."
Korea Republic's loss to Japan followed a draining 1-0 victory over Iran after extra-time in the quarter-finals and Cho admitted some of his players were struggling to be fit enough to face the Uzbeks. Of particular concern is captain Park Ji-Sung, who won his 100th international cap against Japan but may be rested to prevent him from picking up an injury.
"I'm a little bit concerned about Park's fitness level, so I will have to check in training," said Cho. "We are paying attention to his fitness level, which might cause an injury. We're focusing on injury prevention."
With Park tipped to retire from international football at the end of the tournament, news of his fitness concerns may mean he has already played his final game for Korea Republic. Centre-back Lee Jung-Soo missed the semi-final against Japan due to suspension, but he is expected to return for a match that will take place at the home ground of his Qatari club side, Al Sadd.
Uzbeks eye resurgence
Uzbekistan are still smarting from their drubbing by Australia, but with a qualifying berth at the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia at stake against Korea Republic, coach Vadim Abramov says they cannot afford to brood. "It would be better if we win so we can forget this terrible game against Australia," he said. "It would be very good if we could qualify for the Asian Cup as well because it will give us time to prepare."
Abramov said he would make "some changes" to his starting XI and voiced hope that the game against the Koreans would enable his players to put the Australia game behind them. "I hope the players understand what happened," he said. "To get better you need to go on the field and change everything. It's easier for them than for me. I can't change this 6-0."
Uzbek midfielder Azizbek Haydarov apologised to the team's fans and said they were determined to end the tournament on a positive note. "I want to say sorry to the Uzbek people because we couldn't achieve our main goal of reaching the final and winning the cup," he said. "I ask the Uzbek people and supporters to stay with us and support us. I promise that in the next games, in other cups and competitions, we can play against Australia again and show that it was just bad luck."