Tajikistan have made history by qualifying for the Asian Cup last 16 on their debut but coach Petar Segrt said they “want more” when they face the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.
The world’s 106th-ranked side drew with China and beat Lebanon to advance as group runners-up in Qatar and now face a team that reached the semi-finals at the last two Asian Cups.
Segrt is a larger-than-life character who has won friends at the Asian Cup, making a point of shaking hands with every reporter in the room before Saturday’s press conference.
But he said his team are “not here for smiling and celebrating”.
“The group stage was a very sensational success for Tajikistan, but now we want more,” said the Croat.
“I cannot go and talk to the players and say we are now happy, let us go home. We will look for our chances.”
Nuriddin Khamrokulov scored in the 92nd minute to give Tajikistan a 2-1 win over Lebanon and confirm their place in the knockout rounds.
The final whistle sparked wild celebrations, with Segrt’s glasses being smashed in the melee.
Wearing a new pair as he spoke to reporters, the 57-year-old said his players were “the heroes of this tournament”.
But the coach said he must also “find new solutions”, with several players injured and midfielder Amadoni Kamolov still suspended after being sent off against Qatar.
“We will look how much petrol we have in our tank, how much energy we have for this game,” said Segrt.
“We will try to give United Arab Emirates a very good fight. We believe in us.”
UAE also came through their first-round group as runners-up, beating Hong Kong before drawing with Palestine and losing to Iran.
Paulo Bento’s side looked set to finish third until Yahya Al-Ghassani scored a crucial goal in injury time against Iran.
The Portuguese coach said it would be “a big mistake” to underestimate newcomers Tajikistan.
“We don’t have space to make mistakes because we don’t have that possibility as we had in the group stage,” he said.
“I’m sure that our players are going to show the right attitude and the wish to keep doing well and go to the quarter-finals.”
Bento will be back on the bench after serving a one-match suspension for a red card against Palestine.
He was also sent off while coaching South Korea at the 2022 World Cup but insisted his actions had “no impact on the players”.
“This doesn’t mean that it’s a good situation but it’s something that happens sometimes,” he said.
“We didn’t show the most appropriate behaviour.”
Australia must ‘fight till we drop’ to avoid major Asian Cup upset
Doha, Jan 27, 2024 (AFP) – Coach Graham Arnold told his Australia team “to fight till we drop” to avoid a major Asian Cup upset at the hands of Indonesia in the last 16 on Sunday.
The Socceroos came to Qatar as one of the favourites and will be fully expected to defeat Indonesia, who are the lowest-ranked team left at 146 in the world.
Indonesia’s coach Shin Tae-yong said they will need “a miracle” as they compete for the first time in the Asian Cup knockout rounds.
But Arnold, whose side were more solid than spectacular in topping their group with two wins and a draw, had a warning for his players.
“In every aspect they can do better,” he said, referring especially to the offensive side of Australia’s game, having scored four goals in three group matches.
“When they do better the team does better, and I feel we are getting better.
“But the mindset and mentality in the most important thing,” added Arnold, who said first-choice centre-forward Mitchell Duke was back in full training following a hamstring niggle.
With Duke spearheading the attack and Arnold at the helm, the Socceroos reached the last 16 of the World Cup in Qatar, giving eventual champions Argentina a fright in a 2-1 defeat.
Their power and doggedness has been one of the hallmarks of Arnold’s side, and he called it “the Aussie DNA”.
“We fight till we drop,” said Arnold, asked if complacency was a danger against the underdogs of Indonesia.
“When you play for your nation and represent your country it does not matter who you play against.
“It’s about doing your nation proud.”
Indonesia squeezed into the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed finishers, winning one of their group games, against Vietnam, and losing to Japan and Iraq.
It is Indonesia’s first time in the knockout rounds of the Asian Cup, at their fifth attempt, and has been touted by Indonesian media as the country’s biggest match in a century.
“Australia are one of the best teams here and strong and powerful,” said coach Shin, who managed his native South Korea at the 2018 World Cup.
“Those aspects are probably the biggest strengths of their team.”
Shin, who had a stint as a player and assistant coach in Australia, said his side “don’t have much of a chance of winning” and expects the Socceroos to have as much as 70 percent possession.
But he warned: “Even though Australia are a strong team, we are going to play with a strong mentality and we will never give up until the referees blows the final whistle.”