Saudi Arabia are under no illusions about the fact that they must beat North Korea today to stand any realistic chance of making the Asian Cup quarter-finals, according to under-pressure coach Cosmin Olaroiu.
The Green Falcons fell to a 1-0 defeat in their opening Group B fixture against China and need to rebound against the World Cup 2010 finalists in Melbourne.
Another loss, combined with a draw between the Chinese and Uzbekistan, would cause a repeat of 2011’s disastrous early elimination.
“After the first game in the group we know what we need to do exactly, we have only one way and it is very important to win the game,” said on-loan Al Ahli boss Olaroiu. “We have tried to motivate the players that they still have a chance.
“We had the first game in our hands and had a chance to close the game and win and how we lost was unfortunate.”
The Saudis will be without 2015 Asian Footballer of the Year Nasser Al Shamrani, with the controversial striker ruled out of the tournament by an unspecified injury.
Meanwhile, China defender Zhang Lin-peng is confident of getting the result in the top-of-the-table clash against Uzbekistan which will see his nation return to the last-eight of the Asian Cup for the first time in more than a decade.
Alain Perrin’s men are full of confidence after the victory against the Saudis. Their last trip to the quarter-finals was in 2004 on home soil, however, and they now face opponents they have not beaten in three previous meetings.
“We also played Uzbekistan at the last Asian Cup and that was a strong team,” said Zhang. “They had very good players – experienced players.
“We haven’t qualified for the knockout stage for 10 years but now we have a very good chance.”
The president of the United Arab Emirates Football Association, Yousef Al Serkal, has promised that all efforts are being made to stop the team's players from getting carried away after their 4-1 win over Qatar in the opening Group C match of the 2015 Asian Cup.
In what was the most impressive result of the entire first round of matches in Australia, two goals each from Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil gave Mahdi Ali's men a come from behind victory on Sunday and a great chance of making the last eight.
“I am very happy and the first win gives us advantage for qualifying for the next round,” the Asian Football Confederation Vice-President told Sport360. “It doesn't secure it but it gives us an advantage and winning against a neighbouring country that also won the Gulf Cup in November is also a significant feeling. The boys played a good match and looked good as a team and overall that satisfied me a lot.”
With Bahrain coming next on Thursday evening in Canberra, Al Serkal is taking nothing for granted and is sure that the players will guard against complacency.
“It is a big danger, especially in our part of the world. We really get over-excited and overconfident -but we know that. We are working with our boys on the psychological side to settle down and now we go must concentrate on the next game against Bahrain.”
Bahrain, who finished bottom in their group in November's Gulf Cup, lost 2-0 in their first match against group favourites Iran. While the men from Manama would seem to offer a better chance of securing all three points, Al Serkal admitted that in some respects, Iran would be more suitable opposition for the next game.
“If it was Iran, it would be much better as the concentration would continue on the same level but while Bahrain technically be a little weaker, they are very aggressive and play very hard. It is a neighbour and this makes it tough. They have to win and this is going to be a hard game.”
The whole of Group C is comprised of familiar faces and foes, not something that excites Al Serkal when the team is playing in Australia, far away from its usual regional back yard.
“When I saw the draw, I said 'ugh'. That was my first feeling -another Gulf Cup. We just finished playing against teams at the same standards. Luckily Bahrain and Qatar were not in our group at the Gulf Cup but it is the same level and the same kind of teams.”
The president hopes that a different kind of test – against the likes of Japan, Korea and Australia – will come and that is the plan. It is not just about getting out of the group. “Since 1996 when we reached the final to play against Saudi Arabia at home, we haven't really made the latter stages in this competition. That is our main goal here-at least the semi finals. These same players were Asia U19 champions, qualified for the London Olympics and that gives us ambition.”
But the president is thinking of the long-term. All in Asia know that this present generation of stars such as the two goalscorers against Qatar as well as Omar Abdulrahman are talented with futures that could lie in some of Europe's big leagues. Yet, UAE has produced good players in the past without managing to do so on a consistent and long-term basis.
“It is one of most important jobs I have,” Al Serkal said. “For 2018, these stars will be at the right age but in 2022, they may be too old. We are still working hard to develop the teams at the U17, U19 and Olympic level. We have a steady program. We have a chance to qualify for 2018 and we also, of course, want to be at the 2022 World Cup.”
While UAE football certainly looks to be going places, Al Serkal is slowing down. Later this year, the AFC vice-president will relinquish his continental responsibilities, cutting down on those trips to Kuala Lumpur and the committee meetings. At the AFC, he is quite a rare breed of official who is relatively popular all over, even if he did lose the 2013 presidential election to Shaikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain.
There will be another year in the top job of UAE football. “I will continue in my role as FA president until the 2016 election and then I will evaluate.”
By that time, the hope is that the national team will be well on their way to Russia, helped by a great showing at the Asian Cup in Australia. But first comes Bahrain and nobody is getting carried away, just yet.
Only days after their 4-1 rout against Kuwait, Australia produced another superb display to beat Oman 4-0 and progress into the Asian Cup quarter-finals.
Australia dispatched Oman with ruthless efficiency in Sydney, making it eight goals in two games. A team which managed just a single victory in 11 matches last year has caught fire at the Asian Cup and they put Oman to the sword boosted by two goals in three first-half minutes.
Matt McKay poking in from close range in the 27th minute before Robbie Kruse added a superb second with Australia's next attack.
Latching onto a clever flick from Massimo Luongo, Kruse trapped the ball on his thigh before clinically sweeping past Oman goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.
Mark Milligan, in for injured skipper Mile Jedinak, smashed home a penalty in first-half injury time and substitute Tomi Juric made it four with the pick of the bunch with a sharp finish after 70 minutes.
South Korea, World Cup semi-finalists in 2002 but seeking to end 55 years of hurt in Asia's showcase competition, laboured to a 1-0 win over Kuwait to join Australia in the last eight.
The Koreans advanced courtesy of a Nam Tae-Hee header in the 36th minute, but news that midfielder Lee Chung-Yong will miss the rest of the tournament after suffering a fractured tibia cast a shadow over their win against Kuwait in Canberra.
Right-back Kim Chang-Soo also failed to recover from a knock in time, while German Stielike also has illness concerns with several of his players floored by a fever, including superstar Son Heung-Min.
South Korea, who won the first two Asian Cups in 1956 and 1960, have their work cut out to end that mystifying drought with Australia flying and defending champions Japan impressing in their opening game.