UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni insists his side have found a formula to break down stubborn defences – and he’s eager to put it to the test against Kyrgyzstan.
The Whites safely navigated the Asian Cup’s first round by finishing top of Group A, but struggled to put – on paper – inferior teams to bed.
Draws with Bahrain and Thailand sandwiched victory over India but, despite taking 33 shots over the three games, the tournament hosts only found the net four times.
Kyrgyzstan conceded just four times themselves in a strong Group C containing South Korea and China, but Zaccheroni is confident his team will be slicker in their round-of-16 clash on Monday.
“In each match, we dominated but the teams we faced played very defensively,” the former AC Milan boss told reporters in Abu Dhabi. “In saying that, we have identified what we need to do to counter this style of play.
“We identified that we need to be faster in our attacks and we have been working on this aspect since we sealed knockout stage qualification.
“We have analysed their matches and I must say Kyrgyz Republic have improved so much. They have players who are playing in Europe and they will be a challenge.
“However, I am lucky to have a group of players who are focused on their job.”
Kyrgyzstan have every reason to feel confident of progressing further in their first appearance at an Asian Cup.
Vitalij Lux, who plies his trade in the German fourth tier with SSV Ulm, scored a hat-trick in a must-win final group game that dumped out Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Philippines.
What a performance from Kyrgyzstan’s Vitalij Lux, a pair of sumptuous instinctive strikes for his first and second, and a real poacher’s follow-up to complete his hat-trick after Mirlan Murzaev’s shot rebounded off the post. #KGZvPHI #AsianCup2019— James Walsh (@Jarvybigtweets) January 16, 2019
And head coach Alexsandr Krestinin has no intention of stopping there.
“To say that we are satisfied after reaching the knockout stage is inaccurate. When we started here, what I said was that the first task was to advance past the group stage,” he said.
“We have done that and now, we have to work on completing the second task, which is to advance to the quarter-finals. We have been working in training and we have a plan to surprise UAE.”
Jordan have been a well-organised outfit under Vital Borkelmans and earned plaudits for an impressive group stage campaign at the Asian Cup which included a 1-0 upset of defending champions Australia.
However, the ex-Belgium assistant coach is not resting on his side’s laurels as they face Vietnam in a round of 16 clash on Sunday in Dubai.
“What happened in the first round is finished for me. It’s now about going to the game against Vietnam. I never look back, only forward,” he told reporters as quoted by the AFC’s official website.
In contrast to Jordan, Vietnam were the last team through to the knockouts, benefiting from a better disciplinary record than Lebanon.
“I have seen, with my technical staff, many games of Vietnam. We know they are very strong but we also know their weaknesses,” Borkelmans said.
“As coach, you work on this and I believe in my players. My players are trained at a high level. We’ve worked together for seven weeks now and they are amazing players.”
Iran’s quest to end a 43-year drought at the Asian Cup kicks up a gear on Sunday when they meet knockout-debutants Oman.
Here are the talking points ahead of the round-of-16 meeting at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium:
Recriminations after Iran’s group-stage exit at World Cup 2018 proved too personal for Sardar Azmoun.
Illness for his mother because of the personal insults he received saw Team Melli’s great hope retire at just 23-years old. He was back in the fold by October, however, and has been a real asset in the UAE.
The Rubin Kazan forward’s hold-up play is without compare on the continent, plus his eye for goal – absent in Russia – is shown by three strikes in three appearances for the Group D winners.
Azmoun got a brace against Oman during World Cup 2018 qualifying nearly three years ago and you’d back a similar return in Abu Dhabi.
Oman only scraped into the knockouts as a best third-placed finisher, their spot being effectively confirmed by Mohammed Al Musallami’s 93rd-minute header in a 3-1 win against Turkmenistan.
This, however, does not do justice to their creditable performances to date. The hero of last year’s shock Gulf Cup win, goalkeeper Fahad Al Rushaidi, committed an awful error in a 2-1 defeat to Uzbekistan and record four-time winners Japan created precious little during their 1-0 win.
A chasmic 52 places separate Iran (29) from Oman (82) in the FIFA rankings. But their displays to date make an upset possible.
Centre of the problem
Head coach Carlos Queiroz has a decision to make.
Success during the Portuguese’s historic eight-year stint has been built from the back. Only five goals were let in during 18 World Cup 2018 qualifiers and no goals have been conceded, to date, in the UAE.
Eupen’s Morteza Pouraliganji is a lock at centre-back. But usual partner Majid Hosseini was substituted at half-time after a reckless opener against Yemen but was much improved against Iraq, while Hossein Kanaanizadegan was solid against Vietnam.