Friday, January 7, 2011

Coaches assess Asian prospects

The new year is beginning with a bang in Asia, with the 2011 AFC Asian Cup set to kick off in Qatar on Friday. The tournament, which is celebrating its 15th edition, lasts for 22 days, during which time 16 of the continent's top teams will battle it out for Asian football’s most coveted prize.

Six past winners, including defending champions Iraq, feature prominently the line-up, three of which - Iran, Saudi Arabia and Japan – are bidding to become the first nation to win the tournament on four separate occasions. Hosts Qatar enter the championship looking to make history, while the likes of the United Arab Emirates and China PR are desperate to improve on previous runners-up finishes. Ahead of the big kick-off, caught up with some of the coaches involved to hear their views on the upcoming tournament.

East Asians aim high Japan and Korea Republic made history in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ by progressing to the second round for the first time on foreign soil. With their status among the Asian Cup favourites strengthened by these unprecedented achievements, the sides’ respective new coaches are aiming high ahead of the continental showpiece.

“We have showed what we are capable of during the World Cup,” Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni told “We are only second to Australia among Asian teams in the FIFA World Ranking and this reflects our strengths. Our ambition is to prove that we are Asia’s top team.”

Pitted in the group stage against nemesis Saudi Arabia, the team at whose hands they bowed out in the semi-finals four years ago, Japan know that they cannot expect a straightforward passage to the knockout stage. Nonetheless, their Italian coach is approaching the tournament in confident mood. As he said: “Japan are a well organised side and our fighting spirit is second to none.”

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