Uzbekistan caution Croatia

Coach Nuraliyev confident of his team in crunch Group C tie to be played in Fujairah today

By Alex Leach

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Published: Thu 24 Oct 2013, 11:23 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 7:08 PM

Morocco’s Hamza Sakhi fights for the ball against Uzbekistan’s Jamshid Boltaboev and Dostonbek Khamdamov during their match in Fujairah. — AFP

Uzbekistan coach Dilshod Nuraliyev has warned Croatia that his players will enter the field for Thursday’s crunch Group C match in Fujairah (Kick-off: 8pm) with the collective mindset of “winners.”

The Uzbeks are currently in an automatic qualification position as they are level on points and goal difference with leaders Morocco, whose loftier perch is down to their superior ‘goals for’ tally.

Croatia represent a livewire threat to Uzbekistan’s – and Morocco’s – aspirations of finishing as this pool’s winners or runners-up, being as they are just one point off of both contenders in third place.

However, Nuraliyev has urged his squad to approach this, and every, game in a positive frame of mind in order to prevail and – ultimately – progress in this instance.

“The best team is going to be the one that can find a mental balance whenever they play. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to achieve with my team,” he explained.

“It’s sure to be a keenly contested match with the Croatians. We’ll be looking to qualify and what I want from my players more than anything is for them to start each game as winners. It’s mot probably going to be a very important game for us because they’ll also be hoping to go through.”

Morocco and Uzbekistan have the relative security of knowing that neither of them can finish any lower than third as pointless Panama cannot now overtake them in this final round. Four points may well be enough to qualify as things stand to boot, with the best four third-placed nations also making the last 16 alongside the group victors and runners-up.

Nuraliyev clearly won’t entertain any remote thoughts of consolidation nonetheless as the animated coach is eager to keep up the feel-good factor in his now-renowned post-match team talks.

“I like to do it where they’ve been playing,” he admitted. “This time, I told them that they’d done really well against Morocco and that they can do even better against Croatia.

“I thanked them for the effort they’ve been putting in. It’s just a way for me to show my gratitude and motivate them for what lies ahead, which will be very tough indeed.” Morocco arguably have the best chance of the three of securing first place as they have the comparatively easier fixture against Panama in Sharjah (Kick-off: 8pm) to contend with. Croatia or Uzbekistan are poised to take advantage nevertheless should there be a somewhat unlikely slip-up.

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