Reigning champions Iran seek fifth consecutive Games title
The Islamic Republic of Iran men's team are clear favourites for a fifth consecutive Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games gold medal when they take on Uzbekistan in the final on Tuesday 26 September.
The match at 19:00 between world No.6 Iran and world No.35 Uzbekistan brings the Ashgabat 2017 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games Futsal tournament to a close.
In their semi-final at Ashgabat 2017, Iran, who were bronze medallists at the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup, thrashed Afghanistan 8-2. They dominated their rivals in that match to take their tournament goal tally to an impressive 51 goals scored, with only 10 against.
"Iran's Futsal is on another level, they stand on their own in Asia," said Uzbekistan team manager Jahangir Usmanov. "They're not only the strongest team in Asia but also one of the best teams in the world."
While Iran won all their five games without any real challenges, Uzbekistan have gone through some ups and downs, and even lost 4-2 to Afghanistan in the preliminary round. They qualified for the quarter-finals thanks to an unconvincing 4-4 tie with the People's Republic of China in their last group game.
Their semi-final with Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games 2013 runners-up Japan was a tight battle, which ended in a dramatic 3-2 penalty shoot-out and put three-time bronze medallists Uzbekistan into their first Games gold medal match - a feat they might already be happy with.
"This final for us is kind of winning the championship already - we feel now like champions," Usmanov said. "It's again a question of level, and the level of Iran is, of course, higher than our level."
The only hope for Uzbekistan seems to be if Iran was to underestimate their resilient rivals.
"We are glad that people say that we are so strong," said Iran captain Ali Asghar Hassan Zadeh Navlighe.
"For this reason we need to stay focused because if we think that a match is easy for us, that's when we lose concentration.
"We have to respect our opponents," he added. "We don't have to get on the pitch thinking that we are No.1 in Asia, that people say we are like Brazil here and so on - we need to be concentrating all the time."
Uzbekistan have lost all their international matches with Iran, but they can also take encouragment from what happened at the last AFC Championship final, when they reduced the losing gap to the smallest margin.
Japan coach Bruno Jose Garcia Formoso is not so certain of the result at Ashgabat 2017. "Uzebekistan lost only by 2-1 to Iran in the last AFC final so it will not be easy for Iran. Uzbekistan can win," he said.
In the bronze medal match at 17:00, the 2013 silver medallists Japan play the surprise of the tournament, Afghanistan, who have clinched their first Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games top-four finish.
Although the more experienced Japanese team look too good, the world No.97, Afghanistan, have some hope of winning an unexpected bronze.
"Even after this (8-2) loss today (to Iran) we will still be confident and a bronze medal will still be a very good achievement for us," said team manager Din Mohammad Safi.
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