Qatar football team has stormed into the semi-finals of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 but coach Marquez Lopez says the job is only half done.
On Saturday, defending champions Qatar beat Uzbekistan 3-2 in a thrilling penalty shootout at Al Bayt Stadium where 59,000 fans savoured a heart-stopping clash.
Young goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham stopped three Uzbekistan spot kicks as Qatar pulled off a stunning win in front of a packed house.
The win was Qatar’s 12th successive since they first played at the 2019 edition which they eventually won in the UAE.
“We believe reaching the semi-final is an achievement, but the mission is not accomplished yet,” Lopez said following his team’s stunning win over Uzbekistan.
“Our goal is to always win, one match after the other and we’ve given everything we’ve got in this short period,” the Spaniard added.
Lopez said his team is only looking at Iran in the semi-finals and not thinking beyond the last-four clash to be played at Al Thumama Stadium on Wednesday.
“We still have two matches and we want to give everything we can in these two matches, but we’ll take it one match at a time,” Lopez, who is barely seven weeks into his Qatar job, said.
“We studied the Uzbekistan team well and we knew they were a tough opponent,” Lopez told reporters.
“We knew their strengths and weaknesses, for example we know they have two players who are very powerful and dangerous in attack so we tried to mitigate the threat represented by these players in an attempt to neutralise them,” the former Al Wakrah coach said.
“We gave our best and scored the first goal, then we got nervous and our level dropped. But in the end we knew how to handle this match and we came out victorious.”
Goalkeeper Barsham saved spot kicks by Rustamjon Ashurmatov, Zafarmurod Abdirakhmatov and Jaloliddin Masharipov to set up the deciding penalty which would give Qatar the chance to win the quarter-final.
Al Sadd’s senior pro and Qatar defender Pedro Miguel easily scored from the fifth and final penalty to take his side into the semi-finals for the second time in a row at Asia’s premier national team tournament.
“First off, we need to recover after tonight’s match, to be physically ready,” Barsham said after the clash.
“The manager will give us everything we need to be ready as well,” he added.
“Since the beginning our goal has been defending the title, but we’re not thinking about that. It’s one match at a time. The atmosphere in the team is positive and this is what is making us united. We’re like a family,” the 25-year-old added.
Uzbekistan coach Srecko Katanec said his squad should be proud of their fine performances in Qatar.
“The players need to be proud of what they achieved in Qatar. They fought and gave everything they had, but in the end we lost in the penalty shootout. Having penalties decide the game is always tricky. It’s a mental game,” Katanec said while reviewing the pulsating clash.
“We defended well and even after we conceded first, we still played better than Qatar, and created some promising chances. They were initially struggling to break down our defence and even though I’m disappointed with the result, I’m happy with the performance of my players,” the tall Slovenian added.
“Even when the score was level at 1-1, we pressed and chased every ball.
“The players were visibly lacking energy at the end. It’s unfortunate we lost on penalties. Our campaign suffered setbacks as we missed key players,” Katanec added.
“Winning a tournament requires a deep squad, and injuries limited our options.
“The absence of players like Eldor Shomurodov impacted our rotation choices. Even if we progressed further, the team’s recovery would have been challenging,” he added.
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