Qatar head coach Felix Sanchez will lead his team into their final Group B meeting with already-eliminated Japan Wednesday knowing they must secure a win to stand a chance of advancing to the quarter-finals of the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020.
Sanchez’s side have drawn both of their opening games – against Syria and Saudi Arabia – to sit in third place in the standings on two points, two points adrift of the leading duo with just one round of matches remaining.
With the Syrians and Saudi Arabia due to face each other at Thammasat Stadium, Qatar’s hopes are hanging by a thread as should the other match end in a draw, the head-to-head record of the three teams will come into play. “It’s our last group game and it’s very important,” said Sanchez, who has taken the West Asian nation to the semi-finals of this competition in each of the last two editions.
“We know it is going to be a very difficult one. This generation of Japan is a good one and they have a great squad at this level but we have to show we can compete against teams like that.”
Despite coming to Thailand with high hopes of a run deep into the tournament, Japan are already out of contention for a quarter-final berth after back-to-back defeats in their first two games.
As a result, their focus has started to shift towards the nation’s hosting of the Olympic Games in July and August.
The loss against Syria coupled with the opening day defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia means Hajime Moriyasu’s side have no chance of progressing to the knockout rounds of a tournament the Japanese won in 2016.
Moriyasu, who also doubles up as head coach of the country’s senior side and who led Japan to the final of the AFC Asian Cup last January, accepted he was to blame for his side’s struggles at the tournament in Thailand.
“I think I have to show more ability than I have in selecting the squad for this tournament,” said Moriyasu.
“It was a really disappointing result and we don’t know who will be in the final squad for the Olympics. We still have a large group and we still have the overage players who can come in and strengthen the team that will be playing at the Olympics.”
Meanwhile, Alaa Aldin Dali has urged Syria to be fully focused in their final Group B tie against Saudi Arabia today.
Dali has been Syria’s super-sub in Thailand 2020, coming off the bench in their group opener against Qatar to help salvage a 2-2 draw, and was on target again when his incredible run from the half-line mark ended with him slotting past Japanese goalkeeper Keisuke Osako to ensure a 2-1 win on Sunday.
Their victory over the 2016 champions propelled Syria to the top of the group, and a win over Saudi Arabia will assure them a first appearance in the quarter-finals since the inaugural edition in 2013-14.
“In the first match against Qatar, we were behind but we managed to come back and equalise to get the point,” said Tishreen forward Dali.
“Against Japan, we started with better concentration, and the players kept a disciplined formation.”
“We wanted to play on the wings with long balls, using counter-attacks and we managed to score the second goal from a counter-attack.
“We can say that this is a historical win, as we secured the three points and have come very close to reaching the next round.
“There is no secret to the goals I’ve scored. These goals came as a result of my teammates’ support, and when I went on as a substitute my teammates put their trust in me.”
The win over Japan means Syria’s hopes of playing in the Tokyo Olympics remain alive but Dali, 23, knows Saudi Arabia will be tough opponents.
“We entered this Championship with the intention of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“The last match against Saudi Arabia will not be easy but if we remain focused, I am sure we can advance to the quarter-finals.”
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