Japan stars ‘scared’ of ‘tough’ Asian Cup defence

Barny 8/01/2015
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Pessimistic: Keisuke Honda.

Japan trained in Cessnock, New South Wales on Thursday before beginning their Asian Cup title defence in Australia next week.









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2015 AFC Asian Cup Group C & D: Team-by-team guide

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Up for grabs: The Asian Cup.

With the showpiece of Asian football kicking off in Australia on Friday, our reporter Matt Monaghan guides us through the teams competing in Groups A and B. 

– 2015 AFC Asian Cup Group A & B: Team-by-team guide

GROUP C

UAE 
Coach: Mahdi Ali 

Best finish: Runners-up (1996) 
Star player: Omar Abdulrahman 

One to watch: Mohamed Abdulrahman 
Strengths: Solid unit, well-honed under coach Ali. Boast fantastic resources of talent and know how to play competitive matches. 
Weaknesses: Team look tired after three years of non-stop action. 
Star man: Omar Abdulrahman struggling to be fit in time for Qatar opener. 
Verdict: Asia’s fifth-highest ranked team by FIFA, so should be competitive. Semi-final run possible.

BAHRAIN 
Coach: Marjan Eid
Best finish: Fourth place (2004)
Star player: Mohamed Husain

One to watch: Abdulla Helal 
Strengths: Can only improve after dire Gulf Cup campaign under Adnan Hamad. Number of experienced players are back in squad.
Weaknesses: Real dearth of talent compared to group rivals. Can caretaker Eid inspire them? 
Verdict: Look like cannon fodder in the competition’s toughest pool. Even a win looks unlikely.

IRAN 
Coach: Carlos Queiroz
Best finish: Champions (1968, 1972, 1976)
Star player: Reza Ghoochannejhad

One to watch: Sardar Azmoun 
Strengths: Queiroz has made the Princes of Persia incredibly hard to beat, with Argentina’s last-gasp World Cup victory as evidence.
Weaknesses: Obvious counter point is lack of goals. Iran media are also no friends of Queiroz, leading to poisonous atmosphere.
Verdict: Have nous to challenge for the title. Potential semi-final with Australia is one to watch.
 

QATAR 
Coach: Djamel Belmadi
Best finish: Quarter-finals (2000, 2011)
Star player: Khalfan Ibrahim

One to watch: Boualem Khoukhi 
Strengths: Belmadi has engineered a tight side able to flourish on the counter-attack through inventive Ibrahim and Khoukhi.
Weaknesses: If flair players are not at best, can look very one-dimensional. No natural replacement for discarded Sebastian Soria up top.
Verdict: November’s Gulf Cup win could take them far. Anything possible if progress past daunting group. 

GROUP C 

JAPAN 
Coach: Javier Aguirre
Best finish: Champions (1992, 2000, 2004, 2011)
Star player: Keisuke Honda

One to watch: Hiroshi Kiyotake  
Strengths: An established force in world football, nearly half the players play abroad. Position as holders gives belief.
Weaknesses: No outstanding forward to convert chances from delightful midfield.
Verdict: The champions will take some stopping Down Under. The team to beat.
 

JORDAN 
Coach: Ray Wilkins
Best finish: Quarterfinal (2004, 2011)
Star player: Odai Al Saify
One to watch: Khalil Bani Attiah  
Strengths: An underrated force in Asian football, only defeat to Uruguay in play-off preventing World Cup 2014 appearance.
Weaknesses: Recent form is awful, losing seven of last 10 matches.
Verdict: If Wilkins can return Jordan to their best, could be dark horses for competition.

IRAQ 
Coach: Radhi Shenaishil
Best finish: Champions (2007)
Star player: Humam Tariq

One to watch: Justin Meram 
Strengths: On-loan boss Shenaishil has a young squad, eager to prove themselves after November’s awful Gulf Cup showing.
Weaknesses: Onus is on veteran Younus Mahmood to score, but striker is without a club.
Verdict: A quarter-final exit would be a creditable return from the Lions of Mesopotamia.

PALESTINE 
Coach: Ahmed Al Hassan
Best finish: N/A
Star player: Ashraf Al Fawaghra

One to watch: Mahmoud Dhadha  
Strengths: Still riding wave from 2014 AFC Challenge Cup victory. Striker Al Fawaghra is proven in Saudi Arabian top flight.
Weaknesses: One of lowestranked teams in competition. Coach Al Hassan was only installed in October.
Verdict: Group D is Asian Cup’s weakest, but it will still be too tall an order to advance.

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2015 AFC Asian Cup Group A & B: Team-by-team guide

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Up for grabs: The Asian Cup.

With the showpiece of Asian football kicking off in Australia on Friday, our reporter Matt Monaghan guides us through the teams competing in Groups A and B. 

– 2015 AFC Asian Cup Group C & D: Team-by-team guide

GROUP A

AUSTRALIA  
Coach: Ange Postecoglou

Best finish: Runnersup (2011)
Star player: Mile Jedinak

One to watch: Tommy Oar 
Strengths: As hosts, can count on fevered support. Mile Jedinak and Tim Cahill provide huge experience.
Weaknesses: Next generation has failed to fill boots of Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka etc. Can struggle badly for goals.
Verdict: Capable of going all the way. Kind draw makes run to the final very possible.

SOUTH KOREA 
Coach: Uli Stielike
Best finish: Champions (1956, 1960)
Star player: Son Heung-min

One to watch: Nam Tae-hee 
Strengths: Firmly established as one of Asia’s powerhouses. Young squad possesses experience of many top leagues.
Weaknesses: The Taegeuk Warriors were dreadful at the recent World Cup. Confidence could be a problem.
Verdict: Will progress through group but struggle to impose themselves against the best.

OMAN 
Coach: Paul Le Guen
Best finish: Group stage (2004, 2007)
Star player: Ali Al Habsi

One to watch: Raed Saleh 
Strengths: Have worked for three years under Le Guen. Are on upwards curve, finishing fourth in November’s Gulf Cup.
Weaknesses: Real lack of genuine quality in squad. Star striker Amad Al Hosni has only recently returned from injury.
Verdict: Will need an upset to get through group. South Korea clash is vital to their hopes.

KUWAIT 
Coach: Nabil Maaloul
Best finish: Champions (1980)
Star player: Aziz Mashaan

One to watch: Yousef Nasser 
Strengths: Al Wahda’s Hussain Fadel is a rock at the back, while they possess decent attacking options
Weaknesses: The new coach has had very little time to work with his troops.
Verdict: This is a new dawn for Al Azraq under Maaloul. Look weakest team in group, will struggle to progess.

GROUP B 

NORTH KOREA 
Coach: Jo Tong-sop
Best finish: Fourth place (1980)
Star player: Jong Tae-Se

One to watch: Pak Kwang-Ryong 
Strengths: Squad is slowly broadening horizons, with players plying trade in Switzerland, South Korea and Japan.
Weaknesses: Have lost four of last five meetings with Asian heavyweights. Lack of inspirational figures on roster.
Verdict: Will need to be at best to make knockout stage. Not beyond their capabilities to do so.

UZBEKISTAN 
Coach: Mirjalol Qosimov
Best finish: Fourth place (2011)
Star player: Server Djeparov

One to watch: Igor Sergeev 
Strengths: Well-organised team on the rise. Came so close to World Cup qualification.
Weaknesses: This could be the last stand for a number of key players. Could be perfect time to play or a tournament too far.
Verdict: More than capable of progressing deep into competition. Potential quarter-final with South Korea is mouthwatering.

CHINA 
Coach: Alain Perrin
Best finish: Runners-up (1984, 2004)
Star player: Zheng Zhi

One to watch: Liao Lisheng 
Strengths: Core of Guangzhou Evergrande players provide solid spine. Captain Zhi still an inspiration, while Marcello Lippifavourite Zhang Linpeng is a rock.
Weaknesses: Dearth of goals in squad. Have faltered regularly on international stage in recent years.
Verdict: Are a powerhouse waiting to happen but seems time is still to come. Will compete with Uzbeks and Saudis to progress from group.
 

SAUDI ARABIA 
Coach: Cosmin Olaroiu 
Best finish: Champions (1984, 1988, 1996)
Star player: Nasser Al Shamrani

One to watch: Salem Al Dawsari 
Strengths: Boast Asia’s finest player in Al Shamrani. Huge untapped talent in squad.
Weaknesses: Warm-up results under temporary boss Olaroiu have been disastrous. Volatile squad never too far from imploding.
Verdict: It is so difficult to predict what the Falcons will do. Have talent to win whole thing, but too often struggle to put it all together.

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