Muscat: Going into their final Group C match against Iraq on Thursday, all Oman need is just one point to seal their berth in the quarterfinals of the ongoing AFC U-16 Championship in India. But coach Yacoub Al Sabahi has rejected the idea of playing for a draw, instead expressed his team’s preference go into the knockout stages as group toppers.
According to news posted on the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) website, Al Sabahi has his eyes firmly on top spot in the group.
The two-time winners opened the competition with a 3-0 victory over Malaysia, before playing out a scoreless draw with 2014 runners-up South Korea to leave Oman above Iraq on goal difference and needing just a point from their final group outing to advance to the knockout phase as table-toppers.
But defeat for either of the West Asian rivals could allow the Koreans or Malaysia, both sat three points adrift and facing off at Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Thursday’s simultaneous kickoff, to sneak in through the back door and progress to the last eight as Group C remains firmly in the balance.
“We cannot say that both teams will qualify -- I think we must try to win this game,” said Al Sabahi. “If we can go through in first place it will give us confidence.
“But we have not qualified yet. We must have a winning mentality and not just think about a draw as we cannot lose our chance to qualify.
“I have seen the Iraq team, and if you’re talking before the start of the tournament they are the best team. But now there is a chance for our team. We are looking for three points.”
Iraq, meanwhile, will also advance with a draw but must beat Oman if they are to claim first place and progress on top of the standings.
The 2012 semifinalists began their continental campaign with a deserved 2-1 victory over Korea Republic but squandered a number of chances, including a missed penalty by Muntadher Mohammed, before Malaysia scored an unlikely late equaliser to secure a 1-1 draw and leave Iraq’s fate to be decided on Matchday Three.
“The Oman team is very good and they have good experience having been in many championships before,” said coach Qahtan Chitheer.
“We are working hard together for the next match as everything depends on our team playing well. Their team is strong, as they proved in scoring three goals past Malaysia, but we will play to win.”
After beginning the AFC U-16 event as one of the favourites, Seo Hyo-Won’s South Korea have been disappointing in claiming just one point from two games.
The East Asians’ destiny is now out of their hands but a convincing victory over Malaysia will give them a fighting chance of qualification should there be a winner in Thursday’s other Group C clash.
“We must perform much better in our final match if we are to have a chance of qualifying,” said coach Seo.
“We have not played to our expectations but we will try our best to win the match against Malaysia then after that see the other result.”
Opponents Malaysia looked to be heading for an early exit after being dominated by Iraq for 80 minutes until Aliff Haiqal popped up with six minutes remaining to fire home one of the early contenders for goal of the tournament and keep their quarter-final hopes alive.
“We were down against Korea but we came back and got the goal to take it to the last game,” said coach Somasundram Periasamy.
“The chances of us qualifying for the next stage are slim, but we won’t give up.”