Qatar coach Felix Sanchez believes his side’s perfect record in the AFC U23 Championship group stage will have little bearing on today’s quarter-final showdown with Palestine at the Changzhou Olympic Sports Center.
Qatar registered successive wins over Uzbekistan, Oman and host nation China to finish top of Group A with a maximum nine points from the opening phase of the competition.
However, despite Palestine only finishing as runners-up in Group B with four points to their name, Sanchez is under no illusion as to the size of the task that awaits his team.
“We are happy that we qualified from the group stage but obviously that does not count for the next game,” explained the Spaniard, who guided Qatar to fourth place at the tournament’s 2016 edition in Qatar.
“It really does not matter if you have got nine or six points from the group stage, because it is just one (knockout) game. What matters is now.
“We know that from now on, each game could well be our last.”
With the likes of Akram Afif and hotshot striker Almoez Ali hitting form just when it matters, confidence is clearly high in a Qatar camp which faced the Palestinians in a friendly before both teams travelled to China.
Nevertheless, Sanchez believes he saw enough in Palestine’s 5-1 thumping of Thailand on Matchday Three to suggest that Ayman Sandouqa’s side will push his young charges all the way.
“We are going to face a very strong team who had a very good group stage, especially in their last match (against Thailand),” he said.
“We have every confidence in our ability though, and we will try to play a good game as that is the only way we can get a result.”
Palestine, meanwhile, qualified for the last eight thanks to a win and a draw to seal second place in Group B, with their last outing against Thailand a sign, according to Sandouqa, that they are improving match by match.
“Of course, this match against Qatar is going to be a difficult one for us,” declared the former Palestine Under-16 and Under-19 coach.
“We have been working hard in the group stage to succeed and we have reached a point where we have been getting better and better.
“We are going to go into the game in a positive frame of mind and we are looking to get the win and go through.
“We have been taking baby steps to reach this point. The match is going to be a difficult one for both teams. There is not only going to be pressure on Qatar as we are satisfied with what we have done so far, and are looking to progress even further.”
Meanwhile, Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said his team felt no pressure despite being the defending champions as they take on Uzbekistan in today’s second quarter-final.
“Although Japan won the title in the previous edition, there is no pressure, on me or the team,” added the former Sanfrecce Hiroshima coach.
“Of course we are here for the win, but what’s most important is that my players show their individual qualities and what they can do on the pitch.”
Japan topped Group B with three wins from their three games, and conceded only one goal on their way to the final eight.
Moriyasu admits, however, that their match against Uzbekistan will be different from those they played in the group stage, and that games will only get more challenging as the tournament progresses.
“Playing in an international tournament, all the teams we will face in the knockout stage are strong.
“We don’t want to dwell on the past too much. We must focus our attention on what we can do against Uzbekistan.”
Uzbekistan head coach Ravshan Khaydarov also acknowledged their recent match against Japan would not have a bearing on Friday’s encounter, insisting that he was focussing on improving his team.
“It’s going to be different, as there is a big difference in an international friendly and an official AFC tournament,” said Khaydarov.
“The first change we did was mentally, because only the best teams can qualify for this tournament and I’m sure Japan has changed.
“Moving forward, we have analysed them, and we in turn, have also changed some aspects internally.”
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