Uzbekistan’s Olympic dream still alive, says delighted Drulovic

Bangkok: Head coach Ljubinko Drulovic believes Uzbekistan’s dream of qualifying for the Olympics is well and truly alive after a 2-1 defeat to Korea Republic on Wednesday still proved enough for them to qualify for the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020 quarter-finals.

Behind to Oh Se-hun’s fifth minute goal, reigning champions Uzbekistan replied through a Bobir Abdixolikov header only for Oh to seal all three points for the Koreans courtesy of his second goal of the game with 19 minutes of the Group C encounter remaining.

While Korea Republic progressed as group winners, the result also saw second-placed Uzbekistan advance through to the knockout phase and, in the process, maintain their bid to reach this year’s Olympics in Tokyo.

“It was a very important game for us and we are, of course, delighted to progress from the group stage because Group C was, in my opinion, a very difficult group,” Drulovic told reporters.

“Our first target when we came to this U23 Championship was to qualify for the biggest competition in the world which is the Olympics. We always knew that this was our big dream.

“We will, therefore, do everything we can to reach the semi-finals and maintain our chance of achieving that target. I am very happy that we still have a chance of doing just that.”

Although delighted by his side’s progress – and with Sunday’s last eight clash with the winners of Group D looming large – Drulovic is, however, demanding a degree of improvement from the Central Asians who claimed the title in 2018 after a sensational win over Vietnam in China PR.

“Korea Republic had some luck with their opening goal and although they scored again after, we had I think the most important thing is the result,” the Serbian explained.

“I think the Koreans were fresher than us but, having said that, they are a very good team, in fact they are one of the best in Asia. We will now try to improve on certain things in our next game.”

Meanwhile, Korea Republic coach Kim Hag-bum was left to reflect on a job well done after seeing his young charges record a third successive victory to set up a last eight meeting with Group D’s runners-up.

“The players performed very well and they have delivered exactly what I demanded of them,” he said. “We will approach the next match as if it is our last. Our opponents have not yet been decided so I cannot say exactly what our plan will be.

“Our players are definitely developing with each game of the tournament. Every training session and every game is benefiting them. Hopefully that will continue to help us as we look to progress further in the tournament.”

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