Uzbekistan v Oman: Cuper puts pressure on Gulf Cup champions
Uzbekistan manager Hector Cuper believes the pressure is on Oman to prove their quality when the Group F rivals meet in their Asian Cup opener on Wednesday.
Just over a year has passed since Oman beat the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf Cup final and Cuper thinks the onus is on them to show they can step up at a higher level of competition.
The former Valencia and Inter boss will take charge of his first competitive match at the Uzbekistan helm at Sharjah Stadium and is confident they are ready for a strong run despite losing their last match to South Korea 4-0.
"We have had three weeks of intensive training and we are prepared not just for Oman but for the entire tournament. We are anticipating a high-level match against Oman," said Cuper.
"We respect all teams, and we know that Oman is a good team. They are the Gulf Cup champions, but they will have to prove this on the pitch tomorrow.
"We don't fear anyone and at the same time we don't underestimate anyone. We are here to show what we are capable of."
After overcoming Saudi Arabia and UAE en route to Gulf Cup glory, Oman almost went the entirety of 2018 unbeaten.
They earned draws against Ecuador and Syria before going down 5-0 to Australia in a pre-Asian Cup warm-up match on December 30, though they bounced back with a 2-0 victory over Thailand.
Pim Verbeek is without experienced goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi due to injury, but the Dutchman has no doubt the squad he has selected are up to the challenge of reaching the knockout phase for the first time in their history.
"I have a very good selection of 23 very good players and I am sure all of them are capable of winning the three points," said Verbeek.
"As we all know, there are no easy games anymore and we are prepared for a tough match. I have the confidence that we can compete well and go to the next round
"We've had a long training camp and this is the moment that we have been all waiting for. We want to play this one and show the world that it is our time now to deliver and make this team successful."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Uzbekistan – Odil Akhmedov
A senior figure in the Uzbekistan midfield, captain Akhmedov has spent the last two years playing alongside Hulk, Oscar and Elkeson at Chinese Super League champions Shanghai SIPG.
Oman – Faiyz Al Rusheidi
Al Rusheidi was only drafted in after 120-times capped keeper Al Habsi was ruled out, but he should play an important role behind an experienced defence despite conceding five against Australia.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- This will be the first encounter at the Asian Cup between Uzbekistan and Oman.
- Uzbekistan failed to make it out of the Asian Cup group stages in their first two appearances but have since always reached the knockouts. Their best performance came in 2011 when they finished fourth.
- Only three of Uzbekistan's 24 games at the Asian Cup have ended in a draw (W11 L10).
- Oman have scored only one goal in their last five Asian Cup matches.