(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Defending champion Oman faces a tricky draw in its bid to retain the title at the AFC Beach Soccer Championship, to be played in Malaysia from March 4-11.
The draw for the event, organised by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Tuesday, where Oman was drawn against tough opponents Lebanon, Thailand and Uzbekistan in Group B.
Coached by the experienced Talib Hilal, Oman will begin its title defence against Lebanon, followed by games against Uzbekistan, and Thailand. In his remarks to Muscat Daily from Kuala Lumpur, Talib Hilal said, 'It's a good draw. The competition at this level is never easy, we can't risk underestimating any of the teams.
Talib Hilal, Oman coach
'Of course, we played against Lebanon and Thailand during the fifth Asian Beach Games in Da Nang, Vietnam in September-October. We lost to Lebanon in a shootout in the group stage and had defeated Thailand in the knockout round. We didn't play against the Uzbeks, but we know that they are a strong team as they had defeated UAE in Da Nang.' The Oman coach said, 'We will be well-prepared and we will try to defend the title that we won in Doha, Qatar in 2015. Our priority will be to qualify for the World Cup. A top-three finish in Malaysia will ensure us a berth at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup [in the Bahamas in April-May]. Defending the Asian title would be the icing on the cake.'
Talib Hilal recently added four players to his squad that had beaten Japan 3-2 on penalties following a 1-1 draw in extra-time to win its first AFC Beach Soccer Championship title in Qatar in 2015.
The new players who joined the side are Mohammed al Siyabi, Awadh al Yousefi, Nibras al Sabri and Hussain al Ajmi.
Talib informed that a friendly series against UAE has been agreed upon by both the football federations and the dates will be announced shortly. Japan, runner-up to Oman in 2015, is looking to claim a third title following its wins in 2009 and 2011.
It has been drawn in Group C alongside 2007 and 2008 champion UAE, Iraq and Qatar. And 2013 winner, Iran, will take on Bahrain, China, Malaysia and Afghanistan in Group A.
The group winners and the top second-placed team from the three groups will qualify for the semifinals.
The top three teams at the event will represent Asia at the World Cup, beginning on April 27.