Chance to make more history: Verbeek
Having made history on Thursday by reaching the last-16 round of the AFC Asian Cup for the first time, Oman's Red Warriors are now ready for another shot at history, as it takes on title-contenders and three-time champions Iran for a place in quarterfinals.
The knockout game to be held at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, UAE, will kick off at 9pm, Oman time, on Sunday.
Oman squeezed into the last-16 stage for the first time in its four attempts in the Asian Cup on Thursday amid high drama as an injury-time header from Mohammed al Musallami gave Oman a 3-1 win over Turkmenistan in their concluding Group F game. The two-goal margin sealed Oman's spot as one of the best four third-placed teams.
Speaking on the eve of the match against fancied Iran, which is ranked No 1 in Asia and 29th in the world, Oman's coach Pim Verbeek said, “Rankings do not matter in a match like this. We will do everything we can to advance to the quarterfinals. My players are excited and confident. These are the kind of games we train for, whether as coaches or players. Iran is a fantastic team and it will be a challenge but as everyone saw, we are a team that fights till the end.”
Oman, which is ranked tenth in Asia and 82nd in the world, had a day less to recover as compared to Iran but Verbeek said, “Things can't be changed. We have to accept what the situation is. We are very very happy to be in last-16 for the first time as it was our initial target. Having achieved it, it does not mean that we are satisfied. Our second goal is to make it to the next round.”
The Dutchman said he isn't concerned about Iran's defence, which has been a fortress. "They are very strong in defence but no team is perfect. We have seen some weaknesses and if my players can create chances, I am sure we will score. We have a chance to make more history and there will be total commitment from us tomorrow."
Iran head coach Carlos Queiroz has labelled his side's match against Oman as a '50-50' tie.
Portuguese Queiroz is highly impressed with Oman and has warned his players to be on their toes against the Gulf Cup champion.
"The Oman team is a very good team. They have prepared well and have achieved fantastic results over the last year or so. They played 23, 24 matches and only lost two or three. They have a very good coach in Pim Verbeek and we must be careful against them," said Queiroz.
Focus, said the Portuguese tactician, will be key.
"The group stage results do not matter now. We played for points then but now, it is about survival. I rate the match as 50-50 with everything for the winners and nothing for the losers. There is no room for mistakes, regrets, apologies and tomorrows. It all comes down to 90 minutes and we must make sure we come out on top."
Meanwhile, Oman captain Ahmed Mubarak 'Kanu' al Mahaijri, who led the Red Warriors to 2018 Gulf Cup title, said that 'Oman is determined to create more history.'
Iran may be the favourites but Oman, said Kanu, is not daunted with the prospect of facing the continent's top-ranked team.
"Iran is a very strong team but so are we. We played Japan and Uzbekistan and we showed that we can hold our own against teams who are ranked much higher than us," said Kanu.
"We have already created history by making the knockout stage but we are not satisfied with just that. We want to create more history."
"What we showed in all three matches is that we will fight till the final second. We are a team and we complement one another very well," said the midfielder, 33, who scored the opening goal against Turkmenistan with a sublime free-kick.
Elsewhere, in the other round-of-16 games scheduled on Sunday, Jordan meets Vietnam in Dubai (3pm) and Thailand takes on China in Al Ain (6pm). If Oman beats Iran, it will meet the winner of Thailand and China in the quarterfinals.