February 20, 2024

Meet Petar Segrt: The coach who has remodeled Tajikistan into shock Asian Cup contenders

Petar Segrt is a person who just isn’t simply shaken. From deciding to stay as Georgia nationwide workforce coach when Russian tanks rolled into the nation in 2008, to teaching in Afghanistan, Segrt loves a problem.

His newest endeavor is arguably probably the most unlikely but. Returning to the previous Soviet Union, Segrt has not solely taken Tajikistan — a rustic with little or no earlier soccer pedigree — to its first Asian Cup, he has masterminded an unlikely journey to the quarterfinals.

As typically occurs, the Asian Cup has been characterised by lovely unpredictability this yr. The likes of China and Saudi Arabia have already been eradicated, whereas Palestine progressed to the match’s final 16 regardless of most gamers’ households being affected by the battle and struggling in Gaza.

Palestine’s fairytale was ended on the Spherical of 16 by hosts Qatar, however Tajikistan’s goes on after a dramatic penalty shootout victory over the United Arab Emirates. It led to dancing within the streets of the capital Dushanbe, and dancing within the workforce resort in Doha.

“These gamers are the heroes and actually it’s wonderful what they’re doing,” Segrt advised Arab Information forward of Tajikistan’s quarterfinal conflict with Jordan. “They even had me dancing with them — I’m blissful nobody recorded it.

“In the event you visited Tajikistan earlier than you’d see solely individuals watching Barcelona or Chelsea or Manchester Metropolis. All people sporting Messi and Ronaldo shirts. No person cared in regards to the nationwide workforce.

“In these final days I’ve been despatched so many and I see youngsters are sporting the shirts of our workforce. Are you able to think about this? We’re making an influence.”

Tajikistan had didn’t qualify for the AFC Asian Cup in 5 earlier makes an attempt however made it to their maiden main match after topping a qualifying group that included Singapore, Myanmar and neighbors Kyrgyzstan.

In continental membership competitors, too, the Central Asian nation has been enhancing lately, with present Tajik champions Istiklol showing within the AFC Champions League group stage for the third successive time this season.

In Qatar, Tajikistan drew with China and misplaced to the hosts earlier than a dramatic 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Lebanon secured a spot within the final 16. Simply making it via the group was a outstanding achievement on their match debut however then Tajikistan shocked the UAE to achieve the final eight.

Subsequent up for Tajikistan is a quarterfinal in opposition to Jordan on the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayaan on Friday. Identical to Segrt’s aspect, Jordan’s Asian Cup marketing campaign has additionally been characterised by preventing spirit — epitomized by a sensational last-16 victory over Iraq during which two objectives in stoppage time secured a 3-2 triumph.

“We all know from the match in opposition to Iraq that they are going to hold going proper to the tip,” Segrt stated. “They had been 2-1 down and adjusted the sport in two minutes when it had appeared Iraq would undergo.

“They’re harmful and I feel have the mentality to make one thing from nothing one thing very quick. They might have simply settled to take that match into extra-time, however they needed to complete the sport.

“Jordan is a really intelligent workforce, with an excellent coach and we should respect this. However we are going to give them a superb combat. If we lose the match, I would be the most upset man however I do know we’ve got accomplished one thing particular right here on the Asian Cup.”

Segrt has nearly three a long time of teaching expertise, working throughout Europe and Asia — from the Bundesliga to the Indonesian Premier League. With Tajikistan, the Croatian has targeted on bringing younger gamers via and his squad is among the greenest on the Asian Cup.

“I really feel like I guided the workforce and used my expertise to assist them survive the group stage however now the duty is extra with the gamers,” Segrt stated. “It’s their strain now, not mine.

“That’s why I used to be so blissful to beat UAE — they’ve proven me that they’re males, not boys, and are able to massive issues. This match was unbelievable. We conceded within the Ninety fifth-minute and normally this would depart a workforce mentally useless however we got here again.

“I really like these gamers. We educated these penalties earlier than the sport on Monday however this can be a completely different strain in entrance of 40,000 individuals. They confirmed they will deal with it.”

Segrt insists he was assured as soon as the match made it to a shootout due to his religion in goalkeeper Rustam Yatimov, whose save from Caio proved the distinction between the edges.

Russia-born Yatimov had accomplished it earlier than for Tajikistan, thwarting two spot-kicks when Tajikistan beat Malaysia within the remaining of the 2022 King’s Cup match in Thailand.

“I do know we’ve got a goalkeeper who’s a penalty killer,” Segrt stated. “I knew he would save one, however I simply didn’t know what number of we might rating.

“We must always have gained in 90 minutes, we must always have misplaced within the half-hour of extra-time however then my feeling modified once more earlier than the penalties. I actually believed.”

With a FIFA rating of 106, making them the nineteenth finest workforce in Asia, few others would have believed that Tajikistan may make it to the quarterfinals. Now Segrt insists the strain is off.

“After the sport in opposition to Lebanon, we gained the Asian Cup,” the Croatian coach stated. “Tajikistan gained the Asian Cup once we bought via the group. I noticed this on the sphere, celebrating with my gamers — they jumped on me, they broke my glasses.

“Then we beat UAE and gained the Asian Cup once more. We now have gained it two instances and the celebrations have been unbelievable. There was a lot dancing on the resort, the gamers didn’t want any health coaching the subsequent day.

“This for me is soccer and I hope for these loopy gamers that they will dance once more for one night time.”