Hosts battle pressure in Asian Cup opener
Hosts Qatar may be under extra pressure at the Asian Cup after winning the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup™, but they vowed to shrug it off when they face Uzbekistan in the tournament opener tomorrow.
"The pressure on our team is very high because we will organise the World Cup in 2022," Qatar coach Bruno Metsu said on the eve of their Group A match. "The players want to show something to Qatar and to the world," added the 56-year-old Frenchman, who guided Senegal to the 2002 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals. "But we'll try our best to minimise the difficulty and play a good match."
Uzbekistan coach Vadim Abramov ambitiously said his team would target the title although their best finish yet has been the quarter-finals. "We are satisfied with our preparation because we have managed a training camp in Tunisia," said Abramov. "Now I can say our expectation is to win the tournament as all the teams are there."
The two sides are grouped with 2004 hosts and runners-up China and Kuwait, which won their first Gulf Cup in 12 years late last year. Qatar hope to silence skeptics who have pointed to their lack of football pedigree despite being future FIFA World Cup hosts.
They have never qualified for the FIFA World Cup and their previous best showing in the Asian Cup was a quarter-final exit at the hands of China in 2000.
They have acquired some foreign implants over years, including Urguayan-born striker Sebastian Soria and Brazilian-born midfielder Fabio Cezar. However, homegrown 22-year-old Jarallah Al Marri has developed himself into a key marksman.
"Uzbekistan are a very strong team, a good team," said Metsu who has coached Qatar since 2008. "Our players need to play a strong, good game and they will fight to win because this is important for both teams as the opening match."
Metsu said Qatar are prepared to build their national team into world class act along with construction of stadiums air-conditioned to cope with scorching summer heat. "There is big preparation for Qatari players and Qatari facilities and we'll surprise the whole world," added the Frenchman who, however, said he would be too old to coach the Gulf side for 2022.
Uzbekistan have improved their status in the Asian Cup since their debut in 1996 after Central Asian nations joined the far-flung confederation after the Soviet break-up. After being eliminated in the group phase 15 years ago and in 2000, the Uzbeks have reached the quarter-finals at successive tournaments. In 2007, they ousted China in the group round before falling to eventual finalists Saudi Arabia in the last eight.
"We want to show a great match to every spectator and for all the countries," said Abramov, who has been in the job since April. "We want to show that Asian football is at high levels now." The Uzbek tactician, whose side features dynamic attackers and tall defenders who are strong in the air, said he had watched many Qatar games on video. "They show something more than European football. They are playing with foreign players and they have good facilities."
Uzbek midfielder Odil Ahmevod said: "Qatar are very strong, especially their offense line. It should be the key game of this tournament for us."