Socceroos’ Asian Cup path revealed
AUSTRALIA will face Uzbekistan in the Asian Cup round of 16 after Japan defeated the Uzbeks in Al Ain.
Needing a win to top Group F and avoid a knockout clash with the Socceroos in the same city next Tuesday morning (AEDT), four-time Asian champions Japan came from behind to beat Uzbekistan 2-1 at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium.
The result puts Australia and Japan on opposite sides of the draw so they will not meet unless both nations make the final.
The Socceroos will meet the winner of host UAE and Kyrgyzstan in the quarterfinals if it gets past Uzbekistan - before likely facing South Korea or Iraq in the semis.
Uzbekistan coach Hector Cuper admits his team faces a big challenge after finishing second in Group F to set up the clash with the Socceroos on Monday in the same city.
The veteran Argentinian coach, who led Valencia to back-to-back Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001, said his team wouldn't shrink from the challenge of taking on the defending champions.
"I can say that Australia is a really tough opponent and we should be ready against them but more importantly we should morefocus on our own game, not on our rival," Cuper said.
"We'll have enough possibility, enough chances, to beat them. If you want to win the cup you should be ready to play against any team and Australia is also one of those good teams."
Uzbekistan entered Thursday's match ahead of Japan on goal difference and needed a draw to secure top spot.
They took the lead in the 40th minute when Eldor Shomurodov ran through the Japanese defence and deftly chipped the ball past goalkeeper Daniel Schmidt for his fourth goal of the tournament.
Newcastle United striker Yoshinori Muto equalised almost instantly for the Samurai Blue, before Tsukasa Shiotani, who plays his club football for Al Ain, hit a stunning strike in the 58th minute to seal the win.
Both coaches rotated their squads for the match, with Japanese coach Hajime Moriyasu making 10 changes from the team that beat Oman last week.
Cuper made five alterations to the side he selected in the win over Turkmenistan that secured progress to the knockout stages and also substituted star man Shomurodov 20 minutes from time.
With Australia having two days additional rest following their 3-2 win over Syria on Tuesday, Cuper said that squad rotation would be important. "Despite this loss I can say that I'm content, I'm satisfied with the effort made by all the players," he said. "I can say that the game was equal despite the loss."
Uzbekistan has never scored in three matches against Australia including a 6-0 thumping in the 2011 Asian Cup semi-finals in Qatar.
Monday's match will be played at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain from 6pm (0100 Tuesday AEDT).
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