Dubai: Japan and Uzbekistan will slug it out for top spot in the Asian Cup Group F in Al Ain on Thursday.
Both sides are locked on six points having won both their opening games against Turkmenistan and Oman, with Uzbekistan on top thanks to a better goal difference.
That means a draw will see the side from the former Soviet Union claim bragging rights, and the Samurai Blue will be going all out for victory to top the table.
They say there are no easy games from here on, but the match — and group — winners will face a daunting task as they will play either Saudi Arabia or Qatar in the last 16, depending on the result of their final clash in Group E.
The Group F runners-up will have no easy task either as Australia, who finished second in Group B behind Jordan, will be lying in wait in the knockouts.
Uzbekistan coach Hector Cuper claims he is not interested in who they play next and will be going all out for the win against Japan despite a draw being enough for them to win the group.
“I always prepare my teams to go onto the pitch for victory, which is why I don’t like to speculate on who our future rivals [will be in the Round of 16] or who is easier,” the Argentine former Inter Milan and Al Wasl coach said. “For me, all our opponents are the same, and my players will go onto the pitch [against Japan] for the three points because that’s how I’ve prepared my team.”
One man who will be keeping a close eye on the match is Australia coach Graham Arnold as he looks to find out who his men will be facing in the last 16 on January 21 in Al Ain. Australia have been struck by a series of injuries during the tournament, but Arnold’s side now have a breather and a chance to get back to full strength.
“We’ve got five days between now and the next game and I expect probably three injured players back,” Arnold said.
“I know [Japanese coach Hajime] Moriyasu very well. I played with him at Sanfrecce and I know he’s a winner.
“Japan obviously have got a tough game against Uzbekistan. We’ll watch the game and prepare ourselves for whoever we have to play.”