Resolute Saudi Arabia Set To Begin Title Defence Against Tajikistan


(MENAFN- The Peninsula) The Peninsula

Doha, Qatar: Saudi Arabia will begin their title defence at the AFC U23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024, hoping for a winning start against Tajikistan in a Group C match at Khalifa International Stadium.

Saad Al Shehri, who led the side to the AFC U23 Asian Cup Uzbekistan 2022 title, is determined his side gets off to a perfect start in a tournament which also serves as the Paris Olympics qualifier.

“The Saudi team is ready for the task ahead. Hopefully, we can have a fruitful campaign that takes us to the Paris Olympics,” said Al Shehri.

“Maybe the previous tournament was more difficult because the ultimate aim was to win the cup. For this edition, there are three positions that can take you to the Olympics.”

“We approach this as a new one. Yes, there are players who participated previously but we also have a new generation who have to make their mark.

“We hope to start on the right foot against Tajikistan because for Saudi teams, when we start the right way, we tend to finish well.”

As for Tajikistan head coach Mubin Ergashev, having a large number of players in the squad who are also part of the senior side has its own challenges.

While the likes of Alisher Shukurov and Rustam Soirov bring the element of experience to the team, it also meant that Ergashev has less time to work with the entire squad as a whole.

“We're happy to qualify for the second time in this competition,” said Ergashev.“In our group, there are no weak teams but it is my desire to win in these matches.”

In other Group C match, Iraq and Thailand are looking to make an impression in the tournament as they prepare to face off in their opening encounter at the Al Janoub Stadium.

Winners of the inaugural edition in 2013, the Iraqis have qualified for every edition since and head coach Radhi Shenaishil wants his side to“impose” themselves at this tournament.

“Every Iraqi team, in any cup or tournament, we cannot be just another team,” the 57-year-old said.

“We will impose our character and style of play... Iraq has to leave their mark in this competition and we hope to go as far as possible.”

While the West Asians have appeared at the Olympics on six occasions, Thailand are aiming to make it for a third time - and first since 1968.

To help achieve that target, Ithsara Sritharo's charges have prepared for two years and also benefited from the expertise of senior men's national team head coach Matasada Ishii, who is part of their delegation.

“Yes, we have started working with (coach) Ishii and the aim is for the ways of our youth (teams) to be aligned with the first team's philosophies,” said the 47-year-old, whose team are making their fifth appearance at this stage.

“This is the final stage for us. We have been scouting Iraq, they have strong players and play quality football. We are aiming for the Olympics but first, we will focus game by game.”

In Group B, Japan will meet China at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium with their sights set on eighth consecutive Olympic Games qualification.

In other match of the group, UAE will square off with South Korea at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium.

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The Peninsula

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