Uzbekistan coach Rauf Inileyev insists that when his team challenges China in their final Asian Cup Group C match Wednesday, it won’t be the same side that lost meekly to the East Asians four months ago.
Both teams remain in the running to reach the quarterfinals, but China needs only a draw to advance, while Uzbekistan cannot afford anything less than victory when they clash at Malaysia’s Shah Alam Stadium.
China beat the Central Asians 3-1 in an international friendly at Macau in March, but Inileyev stressed that Uzbekistan was then in the initial stages of selecting its players.
"You will see a different team compared to the one that played the match in Macau," Inileyev said Tuesday.
"Uzbekistan is now preparing very seriously against China," he added. "We will field our strongest players. But our aim is to qualify for the next stage, rather than seek revenge for the result in Macau."
Inileyev declined to disclose lineup details, but said he would need to at least replace defender Islom Inomov, who will serve a suspension after receiving two yellow cards during the matches against Malaysia and Iran last week.
China and Iran — which plays simultaneously against Malaysia on Wednesday — are the current Group C leaders with four points each. Uzbekistan is one point behind, while winless Malaysia’s campaign ends Wednesday.
Uzbekistan needs a win Wednesday, because even if it plays to a draw and Iran loses, both teams will be tied at four points. China and Iran would then qualify for the next stage, because Iran earlier beat Uzbekistan 2-1. Standings are decided by head-to-head record, followed by goal difference.
China coach Zhu Guanghu played down the fact that some of his key players will miss the match, including midfielder Zheng Zhi and defender Li Weifeng, who received two yellow cards against Malaysia and Iran.
Zhu indicated he would field players who haven’t seen any action, in order to replace those players and others struggling with injury.
"For those who didn’t play in the first two matches, their condition is even better now," he said. "So I will surely make some changes in the formation. We will play hard to win. We are still confident about the match."