Tehran: Hosts Iran are kicking off their AFC U-16 Championship campaign against underdogs Laos at the PAS Stadium on Saturday but head coach Ali Doustimehr is wary about the unpredictable nature of the game when it comes down to the age category.
Meeting Laos, who are participating for the first time after the tournament was changed to U-16 from AFC U-17 Championship in 2008, would definitely give them more chances to collect all three points but Doustimehr is not seeing those three points in bag before kicking the ball.
“There are advantages and disadvantages of being hosts as the entire country is watching you closely and want you to lift the title. But it won’t be easy given the qualities of the opponents,” Doustimehr said during the pre-tournament press conference. “We are waiting for this time immediately after the qualifications and now it’s the time to show the people how much we have progressed,” he said.
Being the hosts, the Iran Football Federation has left no stone unturned by organizing and participating at various competitions over the months. According to Ali who led Iran to the title in 2008, Iran toured Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Abu Dhabi (to participate in a tournament), Georgia and Kazakhstan as part of their preparation. In Kazakhstan where they were up against six teams including four European countries they emerged winners.
As defending champions, Iran failed to progress through the group stages in 2010.
In a relatively balanced Group A, Kuwait and Yemen are other contenders who will face each other on Sunday. Kuwait also failed in the group stages like Iran in 2010 but this time around they are determined to progress further.
“Our aim is no different than other 15 countries who are here in Tehran,” Kuwait’s Serbian coach Goran Matkovic said. “We played a total of 11 matches in Egypt, Hungary and in Kuwait so we are prepared for this championship. On the top of that, we are also happy to rub shoulders with the best of Asia in this championship.
“We expect to play good football and produce results and will see what unfolds,” he added.
Matkovic’s counterpart Amin Alsunami rues the lack of preparation his team had but he stressed the quality of Yemen team.
“Our only preparation was Arab U-17 Championship apart from that unfortunately we did not compete in any friendly international,” said Alsunami. “But we have some promising footballers and I hope they will try their best to win matches,” he added.
Yemen were impressive in the Arab U-17 Championship held in Tunisia where they managed to progress in the semi-finals after winning their group matches against Algeria and Morocco.