Uzbekistan coach Hector Cuper insists potential opponents in the last 16 of the 2019 Asian Cup will not cloud his focus in their final Group F game against Japan on Thursday.
A 2-1 triumph over Oman was followed by a 4-0 hammering of Turkmenistan to secure a safe passage to the knockout stages for Cuper’s side.
Japan themselves have six points from six, meaning the contest at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium will determine who finishes top of the group.
Winning the group would mean a clash with the runners-up of Group E, while finishing second means a daunting task against defending champions Australia.
Cuper, though, insists that he is not looking beyond Japan and any changes he makes will be made to help the team win the game.
“The most important thing is to win, it doesn’t matter if we make some changes or not,” he said.
“I don’t like it when people say we should play depending on which rival we will meet in the next round. It doesn’t matter to me who we are going to play.
“Some are saying Australia is a tough opponent, but there may be some surprises. Even the team we think is a smaller team, at the end of the day they may win.
“I coached in the UEFA Champions League and I have a lot of experience and I never used to choose to select my rivals. I used to play against any rival. The opposition doesn’t matter.”
— #AsianCup2019 (@afcasiancup) 15 January 2019
Four-time winners Japan, whose triumphs have all come in the last seven editions of the Asian Cup, had to come from behind to beat Turkmenistan and they needed a contentious penalty from Genki Haraguchi to see off Oman.
And Japan boss Hajime Moriyasu, who is also contemplating changes, wants to see an improvement.
“From the two matches so far we have learned some things and there are some other things we want to improve. I want to sort that out before the game and show our best performance,” he said.
“After the previous two matches I’m thinking of changing some players as we have a concept that we have been working on in training and I’ve been sharing it with the players during our meetings.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Japan – Genki Haraguchi
Haraguchi’s penalty may have been a contentious one in Japan’s beating of Oman, but he showed the type of cool head needed in major tournaments to stick the chance away. The right-footed left winger also has an assist to his name in the Asian Cup and the Hannover star will look to provide the creative spark.
Uzbekistan – Javokhir Sidikov
Eldor Shomurodov may have earned the plaudits for his three goals in two games thus far, but Javokhir Sidikov’s industry behind the striker has been important for Uzbekistan. The 22-year-old was a scorer in the hammering of Turkmenistan and could be key to unlocking superior opposition this time around.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Japan beat Uzbekistan by an aggregate score of 12-1 in their two previous Asian Cup encounters (4-0 in 1996, 8-1 in 2000).
– Japan have won seven successive group-stage matches in the Asian Cup for the first in the team’s history.
– Excluding penalty shoot-outs, Japan have lost only one of their last 30 games at the Asian Cup (W20 D9), a 3-2 defeat against Saudi Arabia in the 2007 semi-finals.
– Uzbekistan have won back-to-back Asian Cup group-stage games and will be looking to win three successive games in the competition for the first time since the 2004 edition.
– Uzbekistan have scored at least one goal in six of their last seven matches in the Asian Cup, only failing to score against South Korea in a 2-0 defeat in 2015.
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