Free ebooks Library zlibrary project

The head coach of Uzbekistan national team, Srecko Katanec gave an interview to before the important matches against the Hong Kong national team in the Preliminary Joint Qualification – Round 2 for the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027™.

He is looking forward to the Qualifiers with Uzbekistan to play a double-header against Hong Kong, China with the Slovenian coach having called up 20 of the 26 players from the AFC Asian Cup squad.

“There’s no time to bring in new players or young players with no experience because it’s too difficult. If you’re lucky, you have the players from before, if not you’re in trouble.

“For the qualifiers, it’s important to know what you already have. It won’t be easy because of traveling and playing without much training, then we come back and play again,” said Katanec.

The biggest change is the availability of Eldor Shomurodov – the AS Roma player currently on loan at another Italian Serie A side Cagliari – with the star forward having recovered from the injury that kept him out of the AFC Asian Cup.

Shomurodov scored twice for Cagliari in a 4-2 win against Salernitana and his return to the national team is a welcome one with Khojiakbar Alijonov still out injured.

“Alijonov before the Asian Cup was our best player, he played great in the last few games and then wasn’t available and still isn’t.

“Shomurodov is back but we have to see how he is physically.”

Uzbekistan resume their qualifying campaign on four points, having defeated Turkmenistan 3-1 and drawing 2-2 with Islamic Republic of Iran – results which indicate they will start as favourites against Hong Kong.

Katanec, however, will warn his players against taking Hong Kong lightly at the Mong Kok Stadium on Thursday.

“Professionally we have to give everything that we have. Hong Kong may not have gotten any points in the Asian Cup but there is a possibility of them having a different squad than what they had before.

“So it will not be as easy as what the Uzbek public likes to think. It’s my job to convince the players that they have to be serious.

“On paper, we might be the better team but sometimes on the pitch, football can give you bad surprises if you’re not prepared. If we win these two games, it’s done (qualification to Round 3).

“Some quarters think that with the latest format that it will be easy but it’s not. Because teams like Hong Kong see the chance to qualify, so it’s more difficult.”

“Based on the circumstances, we did a great job but I’m here building now for the third year. We were the only team without our best striker at the Asian Cup.

“I don’t know what could have happened if Shomurodov was there, we probably missed 4-5 goals from him.”

Uzbekistan is Katanec’s third port of call in Asia, having previously managed United Arab Emirates (2009-2011) and Iraq (2018-2021) with the Slovenian national team also among teams he has managed.

Heading into his third year in charge of the Central Asian team, Katanec believes that Uzbekistan have evolved into a side capable of challenging the top teams in Asia and perhaps even reaching their first ever FIFA World Cup.

“The biggest change compared to when I first arrived is that the team plays in a different mode now. I convinced some players that they have to take the responsibility. They play in a different system.

“The players feel more confident on the field because we concede very low chances against any team but we still have some problems against teams who play defensively.

“What is more important is that the players now understand what I want from them, which is important because I don’t get to work with them everyday and it’s vital that when they come, they already know what is required of them.”