The Asian Cup’s most-successful nation, Japan, tests out a new generation for the first time on Wednesday night when they meet outsiders Turkmenistan.
Big names like Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki have either retired or been left out by the continent’s only nation to make World Cup 2018’s knockouts. For the Emeralds, they are making just a second-ever appearance.
Here is the preview for the clash at Abu Dhabi’s Al Nahyan Stadium:
New faces, but the same expectations
Japan’s position as a hotbed of Asian talent means they head to the UAE with quiet confidence, even though so many celebrated stalwarts are no more.
Only skipper Maya Yoshida remains of the 2011 Asian Cup champions. Former Inter Milan full-back Yuto Nagatomo is a solitary centurion – during the run to the round of 16 in Russia he was one of three.
New head coach Hajime Moriyasu has been tasked with bringing through a new generation.
In 20-year-old Groningen winger Ritsu Doan he has a potential player of the tournament and Red Bull Salzburg forward Takumi Minamino has four goals in seven internationals. This week’s withdrawal through injury, however, of emerging Portimonense winger Shoya Nakajima is a blow.
Turkmenistan represent a gentle introduction for the record four-time winners. They are ranked 127th by FIFA, 77 places below Samurai Blue.
Rack up some goals, or simply gain a win, then go from there.
Is the future in safe hands?
13 – that’s the number of internationals caps, combined, for Japan’s three goalkeepers.
This is some climbdown from well-travelled Strasbourg shot stopper Eiji Kawashima’s 88 appearances.
But this does not necessarily mean the position is an Achilles heel.
Kawashima was a weak link at World Cup 2018, making errors against Colombia and Senegal in the group stage.
This is Gamba Osaka keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi’s third major tournament, but the first in which he is expected to start.
Club and country
Turkmenistan’s strength lies in continuity.
Nearly half of the 23-man squad (11) are drawn from the ranks of Yokary Liga holders Altyn Asyr.
This club has recent pedigree on the continent. They were beaten 2-0 on aggregate by Iraq’s Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya in last year’s AFC Cup showpiece.
Elsewhere, winger Ruslan Mingazow is on the books of Czech First League leaders Slavia Prague.
The Emeralds only mined one point in their previous Asian Cup experience in 2004.
A tough Group F, however, means they might not do much better this time.
Iraq have special history at the Asian Cup and they wrote another chapter in tournament folklore with a last-gasp comeback 3-2 victory over Vietnam.
In the 90th minute, full-back Ali Adnan scored a sweeping left-footed free-kick that even Lionel Messi would have been proud of to deny a Vietnamese team that had been full value for a point.
Nguyen Cong Phuong built a 2-1 lead from Vietnam at half-time after he had applied the pressure for Al Faez Itia’s own goal and Mohanad Ali had briefly equalised for Iraq.
Subsitute Humam Tariq bundled in on the hour – despite chances coming at a premium for Iraq – before Adnan’s magic moment for the 2007 Asian Cup winners.
MO’S MOVING ON UP
There is confusion over Mohanad Ali’s real age – he reportedly registered for AFC youth tournament under his younger brother’s documents – but whether he’s 18 or 21, there is no doubt about his talent.
By no means was this a perfect performance but Mohanad, often isolated between Vietnam’s disciplined banks of four and five, made use of the few scraps he received.
The Baghdad-born striker simply kept coming and coming. Seconds after one skewed effort that should at least have hit the target, he intercepted an off-balance Do Duy Manh and slammed home.
He was also instrumental in setting up Iraq’s second, sucking in a couple of defenders in the air and the ricochet landed to the feet of substitute Humam. OK, the initial header lacked punch, but the passage of play sums his up – frenetic, for better or for worse.
A little more composure would serve him well and this tournament is the perfect showcase. Surely he won’t stay in the Iraqi Premier League for much longer.
VIETNAM ANNOUNCE THEMSELVES TO CONTINENT
Iraq centre-back Ahmed Ibrahim had proclaimed that his side had sniffed out weaknesses in the Vietnamese defence. While they breached the back-line three times, in reality a defensive error and hopeful cross is as good as it got for Iraq.
The Vietnamese are an extremely well-drilled unit and dared Iraq to attack them down the flanks, where they struggled to conjure an overlap and a consistent delivery into the box.
What really stood out when watching the AFF Suzuki Cup winners though was how comfortable they are on the ball.
Yes, Iraq dominated possession, but Vietnam were a sliver away on a number of occasions with the little they had, with Hanoi midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai showing poise and feather touches off the flank.
Vietnam were fully deserving of a point and, and though it wouldn’t have been of much solace for shattered spirits at full-time, it took an unbelievable free-kick from Adnan to deny them. The champions of south east Asia look the part against the rest of the continent.
Egypt will host the African Nations Cup for a fifth time later this year, the Confederation of African Football has announced.
The tournament needed a new host after Cameroon were stripped of the privilege in November because of slow preparations.
And Egypt beat off competition from South Africa in a vote held at a CAF executive committee meeting in Dakar on Tuesday.
The event will include 24 teams for the first time, an increase of eight from the 2017 edition, and runs from June 15 to July 13, leaving Egypt with less than six months to prepare.
Egypt won the tournament the last time they hosted it in 2006, beating Ivory Coast 4-2 on penalties following a goalless draw.
Seven-time winners Egypt were also runners-up two years ago, losing 2-1 to Cameroon in Gabon.
Provided by Press Association Sport