Saudi Arabia are gunning to finish their AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024 Group C challenge with a perfect record when they play Iraq at Khalifa International Stadium today. Six points from their earlier two matches mean Saudi Arabia should progress to the quarter-finals but head coach Saad al-Shehri wants the defending champions to maintain the momentum that saw them scoring nine goals past Tajikistan and Thailand.
Finishing top will mean a quarter-final against the Group D runners-up but Saudi Arabia will face Iraq without the services of suspended midfielder Eid al-Muwallad and right-back Mohamed Waheeb. “We are confident in all 23 positions, whoever we select,” said al-Shehri. “It’s important that we finish top of the group.
“The positioning is important for us and the selection will reflect that. We started rotating players (after getting into the lead against Thailand) and there’s a possibility we will do that again. We were at our absolute best (against Thailand), whether in offence or defence. Hopefully against Iraq, we can continue to do the same.”
Iraq revived their knockout stage chances with a 4-2 win over Tajikistan on Friday but need victory against Saudi Arabia to advance. Head coach Radhi Shenaishil is keeping his cards close to his chest on how he will approach the match as he attempts to spring a surprise.
“Our fate is in our hands now with the result against Saudi Arabia being key,” said the 57-year-old.
“They are skillful and have been playing together for three years.”
“And of course we will play with different players, formation and strategy. A lot of things will be different.”
A win for Iraq will put them and Saudi Arabia on six points but progression will still be dependent on the result between Thailand and Tajikistan in the simultaneous.
In the other Group C match, Thailand will take on Tajikistan.
Head coach Ithsara Sritharo is committed to steering Thailand back to their strengths.
Following their 5-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia on Friday, Thailand find themselves tied on three points with Iraq, who bounced back into knockout stage contention after beating Tajikistan 4-2.
That means Thailand - if they want to advance to the quarter-finals for just the second time in history - must clinch all three points at the Al Janoub Stadium.
Japan vs South Korea
South Korea head coach Hwang Sun-hong will take his team into their clash with rivals Japan today wary of the attacking talents of Go Oiwa’s side as the pair battle for top spot in Group B.
A 2-0 victory over China for the Koreans and a win by the same scoreline over the United Arab Emirates by the Japanese mean the pair have already secured their places in the knockout rounds, with only the finishing order in the group to be determined.
“We have to take all factors into consideration before playing against Japan,” said Hwang, who has injury concerns over several players including central defender Seo Myung-guan after he was substituted four minutes into the second half of the win over the Chinese.
“It is very difficult but we have to find ways to get through. Japan have good team organisation, they are top class, very good at high pressing and possess a good build-up system.
“They also have a variety of options available for every game and this makes them difficult to play against. We have to also be cautious of their pace.”
Lee Young-jun scored both of Korea Republic’s goals against the Chinese to take his tally to three in two games so far and the next goal for the young Taeguk Warriors will be the country’s 50th in total in the six editions of the competition.
With the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024 doubling up as the confederation’s qualifiers for the Olympic Games in July and August, both teams will be looking to further strengthen their case to be among the three guaranteed representatives in Paris.
The pair have appeared at every Olympics since 1996 and the meeting at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium could be a precursor to the tournament’s decider with both among the favourites to lift the trophy. Japan won the last time the two countries faced off when the tournament was played in Qatar in 2016, with Takumi Asano coming off the bench in the final to score two late goals to help secure the title for the Samurai Blue.
Like Hwang Sun-hong’s side, Oiwa’s team are unbeaten in their opening two games of the current campaign and the former Kashima Antlers coach stressed he is giving no consideration to his team’s position when they conclude their group commitments.
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