Sharjah: Hector Cuper is hoping for a winning debut with Uzbekistan as the White Wolves take on 2017 Gulf champions Oman in their Group F opener of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, on Wednesday.
The former Valencia, Inter Milan and Real Betis coach who spent a season with Dubai’s Al Wasl, was appointed the Uzbek coach in August last year to take the team through to the 2022 Fifa World Cup. Since taking over, the 65-year-old Cuper has maintained a relatively low profile with just six friendlies — winning and losing two apiece and a couple of draws.
Going against one of the toughest teams in West Asia, Cuper stayed unfazed. “We have had three weeks of intensive training and we are prepared not just for Oman but for the entire tournament. We are surely anticipating a high-level match against Oman,” Cuper told media.
“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,” he added.
Cuper’s side are aiming to better their fourth place finish in 2011. They will be a force to be reckoned with, especially after Uzbekistan emerged champions in the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in China. The Uzbeks are doubly blessed as Oman’s first-choice goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi with loads of Premier League experience will not be playing after picking up an injury playing for Al Hilal against Al Ahli in a Saudi Premier League game at the end of December.
“It is a big loss for Oman [without Al Habsi]. So perhaps we will go in with a huge advantage and his [Al Habsi] absence can inspire our players towards a positive result,” Cuper hoped.
Given their fine run of an eight-match winning streak, Oman coach Pim Verbeek is confident his team can hold themselves up against a physically superior Uzbekistan.
With Ammar Al Rashidi chosen to replace veteran Al Habsi on goal, Verbeek — who was assistant to Guus Hiddink in South Korea’s semi-final appearance during the 2002 Fifa World Cup — is looking at a solid team effort to deliver three points, on Wednesday.
“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. As we all know, there are no easy games anymore and we are prepared for a tough match tomorrow. I have the confidence that we can compete well tomorrow and go to the next round,” Verbeek related.
With an all-time high Fifa World Ranking of 82, the reigning Gulf Cup champions believe they can advance to the knockout stage of the Continental showpiece for the first time in their history. After suffering a 5-0 thrashing against Australia, Oman received a confidence booster after seeing off Thailand 2-0 in their final warm-up last week.
“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,” he added.
CATCH THE MATCH
Wednesday, January 9
Oman x Uzbekistan