x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Top two-ranked teams meet in the semi-final of AFC Futsal Championship

Thailand have only won three of their 17 matches against the favourites, Iran, while Australia's amateurs face Japan.

Shamsaee Vahid, the Iran captain and forward, in white, skips past Uzbekistan’s Svirido Konstantin
Shamsaee Vahid, the Iran captain and forward, in white, skips past Uzbekistan’s Svirido Konstantin

DUBAI // Victor Hermans, the Thailand coach, is confident his young team can beat the overwhelming favourites Iran when Asia's No 1 and No 2 ranked teams clash in today's semi-final of the AFC Futsal Championship.

Thailand came from two goals down to beat Lebanon in their quarter-final yesterday, while 10-time champions Iran knocked-out Uzbekistan 6-3 in an engrossing game at Al Shabab.

The Thais have won just three of their 17 official matches against Iran, losing 12 including the 2008 final, but Hermans is convinced his team can upstage Team Melli.

"All the games start at 0-0," said Herman, who worked in Iran in the late 1990s and helped them set up their futsal programme. "We will go out there to win and I believe we can win this game.

"Of course, Iran are a very good team. They have good speed and fitness, but I believe in my team and I am proud of how they have performed here.

"They are here to win every game they play and to show what they can do, and with this win we have proved we deserve to be at the World Cup."

Ali Sanei, the Iran coach, was equally confident about his own team's chances of reaching Friday's final and taking home the trophy for the 11th time in 12 Asian championships.

"We know the Thailand team very well," Sanei said. "We have already analysed them. The head coach of Thailand, Mr Victor Hermans, is a very good coach and very well known.

"We know how he is going to arrange his team and how he is going to work with his team. Hopefully, we will be able to get the result we need against them. We are ready for this game against Thailand."

Sanei conceded his side were given a tough time by Uzbekistan, the team they defeated in the final of the last Asian championship in 2010, and he said: "As you go deeper into a tournament, the matches will get more difficult; it will be another final against Thailand."

This was one of the earliest exits in the Asian championship for Uzbekistan, who have finished runners-up three times and Jose Mendez, their coach, blamed the team's performance in their opening game against Kuwait for the disappointment.

"I told my players right now, 'We did not lose our chance to go to the World Cup today; we lost that chance in the first game against Kuwait'," Mendez said. "We did not play a good game and missed a lot of chances.

"We lacked energy and focus. We drew that game [1-1] and this is why we finished second in the group. Finishing second meant playing Iran.

"I think Iran started the game much better than us. We were a bit nervous and could not play as well as we should because of the pressure of the game."

Steven Knight, the Australia coach, is looking for his doughty bunch of amateurs to spring a surprise on Japan in today’s semi-final at Al Wasl club.

The Australians, who have managed just around 40 hours of training coming into the tournament, defeated Kuwait 3-2 in extra time last night to set-up a clash with the 2006 champions Japan, who defeated Kyrgyzstan 1-0 in the other quarter-final.

Kuwait and Australia were locked 2-2 after 40 minutes of regulation time, but in the second minute of extra time, Daniel Fogarty scored what proved to be the winner for the Aussies.

“For us, it was really intense,” Knight said. “I think we have done extremely well to reach the semi-finals and I am extremely happy with the results.

“This win gives us a chance of getting on the podium and obviously Japan is our first challenge. So we will go out and do our best. We would like to play Iran in the final.”

The four semi-finalists at this championship get an automatic berth at November’s World Cup in Thailand, but since the Thais were already assured of their place in the tournament as hosts, the fourth berth from this tournament will go to Kuwait, the Group D winners who boast the best record among the four losing quarter-finalists in this event.

Kuwait played the last three minutes of the game in their own half, passing the ball between themselves to make sure they did not lose by more than one goal. Had Australia scored one more, Kyrgyzstan, who lost 1-0 to Japan, would have made the grade.

The Kuwait coach Luis Fonseca defended those tactics and said: “I just wanted my country to go to the World Cup. The responsibility for this lies with the people who make the rules.

“If the game and gone to penalties and we had lost 5-1, we would have been out because those goals would have counted. That is incredible.

“I apologise for those last three minutes. It’s not my way of playing and I am not very happy about having to qualify in this manner.

“I would have been happier if we had qualified for the World Cup by beating Australia.”

arizvi@thenational.ae