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Tajikistan's players celebrate with their goalkeeper Rustam Yatimov after their win over UAE in the Qatar 2023 AFC Asian Cup round of 16 match at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, west of Doha, on January 28. Image Credit: AFP

Doha: Tajikistan’s coach Petar Segrt says his “dark horses are still running” and do not want to stop at the Asian Cup quarter-finals on Friday against Jordan.

The Central Asian side are the lowest-ranked team left in Qatar and have been the surprise package on their debut in the competition.

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They can make more history by defeating Jordan and their colourful Croatian coach does not want to go home yet.

“We are ready to continue our dream,” said the charismatic Segrt on Thursday.

“Maybe everyone is laughing at me but I believe in a dream.

“We know we are the dark horses of this tournament and the dark horse is still running.”

He added: “Maybe everyone laughed about Tajikistan going to the quarter-final, but nobody is laughing now.

“Maybe everyone laughs if we go to the semi-final? But this dark horse will try to run to the semi-final.”

Special charter flight

Tajikistan won one, drew one and lost one to finish runners-up behind hosts and holders Qatar in the group phase.

They then held their nerve to defeat the United Arab Emirates 5-3 on penalties in the last 16.

A special charter flight brought around 200 fans from the Tajik capital Dushanbe to Doha for the game against UAE, and there are plans to bring more over for the quarter-final.

The 57-year-old Segrt, whose itinerant career has taken in coaching jobs in Georgia, Afghanistan and Maldives, has arguably been Tajikistan’s biggest star.

He said on Thursday he had purposely tried to attract attention to take the pressure off his players early on in their Asian Cup debut.

“That was my small secret — I took all the pressure on me,” he told reporters, having shaken the hand of every journalist in the room ahead of his pre-game press conference, something he has done from day one in Qatar.

“There is too much focus on me now. Now focus on the players.

“They are the stars, not me.”

Fighting qualities

Segrt said he was particularly wary of the fighting qualities of Jordan, who scored twice in stoppage time to stun Iraq 3-2 in the previous round.

The two sides drew 1-1 in a recent World Cup qualifier in Tajikistan and Jordan coach Hussein Ammouta said: “We must be cautious and pay attention to small details.”

Ammouta, whose team held heavily fancied South Korea 2-2 in the group phase, said they had pored over the video footage of that stalemate.

“But tomorrow will be a different match,” he added.

“I have huge trust in my players, they are ready physically and mentally.

“They are fighters.”