Uzbekistan will play Saudi Arabia at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on Sunday from 8:00pm.
Finally after 18 games the 2015 edition of the Asian Cup has its first real elimination game.
With both teams having fallen to China and getting the chocolates against DPR Korea they enter the game equal on three points. Saudi Arabia holds the upper hand with a superior goal difference and the knowledge that a draw will be good enough to see them face the winner of Group A in the quarter final.
Saudi Arabia managed to dominate DPR Korea after falling behind in the early stages. The 4-1 score line should’ve been many more with many chances wasted in the final third. The Uzbekistan defence will be much harder to break down and chances must be taken. In both games Saudi Arabia has missed a penalty, and although the follow up completion made amends in the DPR game it doesn’t bode well if the referee points to the spot again. The Saudi Arabian team are capable of many things on their day but consistency isn’t one of them. Lapses of concentration will be a major concern for Olaroiu and this has hampered the Saudi team throughout many tournaments.
Uzbekistan entered the group as favourites but has once again failed to live up to the tag. Whether it is the mental pressures of big time tournament play or coming up against a great Chinese team only time will tell. The Uzbeks require far more output from their star player Server Djeparov. Uzbekistan appeared to struggle with the Brisbane humidity and should be happier playing in Melbourne. The White Wolves would love to win the game and set up a possible revenge match with hosts Australia, the team who humiliated them in the 2011 semi-finals.
The team who qualifies to the quarter final has the advantage of staying in Melbourne and playing against a team who has to travel from the heat and humidity of Brisbane.
Played: 9 Uzbekistan: 3 Draws: 1 Saudi Arabia 5
Although the head to head statistics appear close, Saudi Arabia has scored twice as many goals in these encounters than Uzbekistan.
Expect plenty of passing with both teams being two of the five teams with over 1,000 passes in the first two games. Australia, South Korea and Japan are the others. Patience will also be required when watching this game; it may resemble a game of chess at times with every more having major consequences. The elimination stage starts early for both these teams, keep that in mind when watching the first half.
The big issue:
Knowledge is power, but Saudi Arabia having the knowledge that a draw will be enough to see them finish second could prove a hindrance during the game. Playing for a draw is always dangerous but when does Romanian Cosmin Olaroiu implore these tactics. Saudi Arabia tends to play on emotion and spirit and sometimes in elimination games this can work against you. The defence hasn’t looked great throughout the tournament for the former powerhouses in Asia and this could continue once again if the Saudi’s don’t start well.
Much has been said of veteran Server Djeparov before the tournament, but we are yet to see his quality shine. The man with 105 caps and 23 goals at national level needs to lift his team through the group stage in what could be his final international tournament. The 32 year old has only scored 6 goals in the last 3 years of international football and seems to be on the decline. Only fools write off champions, but the two time Asian player of the year appear a shade of his former self and may only have 90 minutes to remind the football public of Asia of his shining qualities.
Uzbekistan has made the final stage in the last three Asian Cups. Look for that to continue with a nervy win. Saudi Arabia will show plenty of heart, but not enough quality up the point end of the pitch. Sunday night should provide another great night of football in Melbourne, particularly if results fall the Socceroos way on Saturday and they play the winner of this clash.