Muscat: Oman are favourites but by no means complacent as they start their AFC Asian Cup final round qualifying campaign against Bhutan on Tuesday.
The opening match of the four-team Group D is scheduled to kick off at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex at 7.00 p.m.
Both Oman team captain Ali Al Habsi and assistant coach Muhanna Said Al Adawi sounded optimistic while stressing the importance of making a positive start against Bhutan.
Speaking during the mandatory match-eve press conference at City Seasons on Monday, Muhanna Said said: “We will not underestimate Bhutan. This is a very important game for us and our fans. It is very important to win full points.”
Muhanna, in charge of the team in the absence of Dutchman Pim Verbeek who returned home to attend to his sister’s funeral, said the team has prepared well for the match during the eight-day training camp but refused to take the opponents lightly.
“We do not have enough information about the Bhutan team. No doubt on paper we are a stronger side than Bhutan. We are overwhelming favourites to win the match. But we respect Bhutan team. We will try to focus and win the match.”
“It very important for us to start this qualifying campaign with a victory, to win the confidence of our country and the fans so that we can complete the journey with a positive attitude.
“We are well aware that a good start will boost our hopes and chances of qualifying for the Asian Cup finals.”
Asked about Pim Verbeek’s absence, he said: “Coach Verbeek was with the team before traveling to the Netherlands.
The players have promised to win the match and dedicate the victory to him.”
To satisfy fans
Oman captain and goalkeeping star Ali Al Habsi, after conveying his condolences to coach Verbeek, said he is happy to be on national duty after a long gap.
“I am very happy to be back with the national team after a year-long absence. It is a great honour for me to wear the badge again and proud to be with the new coach after a long wait.
“I am very excited to train under Pim Verbeek and Muhanna Al Adawi and with the team which now has a mix of experienced and new faces.”
“The qualifiers are very important in our march towards the Asian Cup finals. We need to be cautious and try to win all the available points.”
Echoing the views of Muhanna Said, the Omani legend said: “It is a difficult start for us as we will be playing a team whom we don’t know much. So the Bhutan match will a real challenge to us.
“We are looking forward to produce the performance that will be appealing and satisfying to our fans.”
According to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the top two from each of the six groups will qualify for the AFC flagship competitions finals to be played in the United Arab Emirates between January 5 and February 1 in 2019.
Meanwhile, Bhutan coach Torsten Spittler said his team are aware of the superiority of their opponents but are ready to give their best.
“There is a big difference between the teams. Oman are a well developed and experienced side than us,” the German said.
“But our preparations for the match have been very good. We will focus on our efforts and try to achieve a positive result,” he added.
“We do not have enough experience in the qualifiers. But we have worked hard and we are determined to play our potential. We hope we can produce a great football,” he said.