Tashkent: Islamic Republic of Iran and Qatar have promised their best when they kick off their AFC U23 Asian Cup™ Uzbekistan 2022 Group A campaign on Wednesday.
The Bunyodkor Stadium will feature a tie between two teams who have made it past the group stage in previous editions, and both head coaches are aiming to secure an early advantage in a tough group that also includes 2018 champions Uzbekistan and debutants Turkmenistan.
Iran head coach Mehdi Mahdavikia has named a squad with an average age of just 21, but the legendary former Team Melli defender is confident the youngsters can step up to the plate.
“We are here with a very young team but with big goals,” said Mahdavikia. “This will be a great experience for us. There are a lot of difficult teams in our group, but we will do our best to have the best results.
“We have the tournament hosts Uzbekistan, a powerful team in Qatar and a respected team in Turkmenistan. We respect all our rivals, but we want to have the best results in the group.”
Mahdavikia will be missing several players who impressed in the Qualifiers, goalkeeper Alireza Rezaei among them, but the coach doesn’t believe this has weakened his side.
“We don’t have any problems, we have many talented players in all the positions. We believe in them and that they can achieve our goals.”
The likes of Almoez Ali and Akram Afif first impressed in the 2018 AFC U23 Asian Cup before going on to steer Qatar to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 title and head coach Nicolas Cordova, who took over the reins from Felix Sanchez, is confident his new generation of players can make their mark as well.
“We know that it’s going to be a tough tournament,” said Chilean Cordova. “The qualification itself was tough. All the teams have the potential to win the tournament.
“We have a good young generation. Still, we have to take into consideration that we’re participating with a younger team than usual, which is part of our long term project to prepare them. I’m sure the future will be the same, where we have good players moving to the national team.” Cordova said Qatar, who finished third in 2018, had prepared well for the tournament, including having played several friendlies.
“We are generally satisfied with the games (friendlies), because we always look for opportunities to improve and be better. “ The teams in this tournament are very good, but it’s about ourselves and competing in our best way.
“We can’t talk about the minimum (target), but the maximum target is to prepare for each game in the best way and to be ready and competitive. If we are well prepared, we can aim to go far.”
Source: Qatar Olympic Committee