Contenders and teams to watch

MODEST JAPAN AIM FOR FIFTH TITLE

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu indulged in some early mind games by claiming his side were long shots to win a record-extending fifth Asian Cup title.

"We're the challengers," said the former Japan midfielder, who has yet to lose in five matches since taking over from Akira Nishino after the 2018 World Cup.

"Our job is to try and snatch the title back."

Despite Leicester striker Shinji Okazaki and Borussia Dortmund playmaker Shinji Kagawa being omitted from the squad, former Japan coach Philippe Troussier has tipped the Samurai Blue for glory in the United Arab Emirates.

"Japan have one of the best teams in the competition on paper," said the Frenchman. "Of course, teams like South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia have the same ambition, but Japan have the potential to win the title."

Japan open their campaign against Turkmenistan on Wednesday and also face Oman and Uzbekistan in Group F.

Veteran Yuto Nagatomo believes the new-look team, who reached the knockout stages of last year's World Cup after controversially sacking coach Vahid Halilhodzic in the run-up, can spring some surprises.

"We have to believe we can win it," the Galatasaray full-back told local media.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JAPAN FACTFILE 

FIFA RANKING: 50

BEST PERFORMANCE: Champions (1992, 2000, 2004, 2011)

LAST EDITION (2015): Quarter-finals

COACH: Hajime Moriyasu

KEY PLAYER: Takumi Minamino (forward)


PHOTO: REUTERS

 

 

 

SOUTH KOREA BANK ON SON TO END LONG WAIT

South Korea are hoping forward Son Heung-min's dazzling pace and goals can help them end a 59-year wait to be crowned continental kings.

The 2015 runners-up have put their stamp on the international scene in recent times, stunning holders Germany at last year's World Cup before winning the Asian Games football tournament in September last year.

Son, 26, was at the heart of both successes and his delight was plain to see at the Asian Games where victory earned the team an exemption from South Korea's compulsory, 21-month military service.

He has been in scorching form for Tottenham, scoring seven goals in his last seven Premier League games and he believes a break from international duty in November helped him avoid a mid-season burnout.

Since coach Paolo Bento took charge of the Taeguk Warriors in August, they have been unbeaten in seven matches. Son will, however, miss the first two matches against Philippines (Monday) and Kyrgyzstan (Jan 11) under an agreement between Spurs and the Korea Football Association. He will join the squad in time for their final Group C clash against China on Jan 16.

"The Asian Cup is big for us because we have not won it for 59 years... I am going there to win something," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

SOUTH KOREA FACTFILE

FIFA RANKING: 53

BEST PERFORMANCE: Champions (1956, 1960)

LAST EDITION: Runners-up

COACH: Paulo Bento

KEY PLAYER: Son Heung-min (forward)


PHOTO: REUTERS


QUEIROZ EYES FAST START FOR IRAN

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has demanded a high-intensity start against debutants Yemen in their Asian Cup Group D opener.

World No. 29 Iran, the top-ranked Asian team, are one of the tournament favourites and the Portuguese said they must make their presence felt on Monday.

"I want to develop this kind of instinct in my team, to keep all of our energy so that it explodes in the 90 minutes against Yemen," Queiroz told the AFC website.

"And, when we finish the game, then it's time to think about Vietnam and after that Iraq."

Queiroz urged his team not to underestimate 135th-ranked Yemen.

"The first game is always the most difficult because it's everything for the winner and almost nothing for the loser in a short competition of three games," he said. "There are no small teams.

"I was checking the results of the Iran teams in different competitions, at U-17s, U-20s, and never have Iran beaten Yemen in official competitions.

"There's a reason for that: Yemen might draw or lose, but Yemen are a tough team to beat."

Iran are looking to end a 43-year wait for their fourth title. They crashed out of the last Asian Cup on penalties to Iraq in a thrilling quarter-final.

REUTERS

IRAN FACTFILE

FIFA RANKING: 29

BEST PERFORMANCE: Champions (1968, 1972, 1976)

LAST EDITION: Quarter-finals

COACH: Carlos Queiroz

KEY PLAYER: Sardar Azmoun (striker)


PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 


ADDITION OF TRIO A BOOST FOR THAILAND

The return of Teerasil Dangda, Theerathon Bunmathan and Chanathip Songkrasin may force Thailand to make a few tactical tweaks, but vice-captain Chalermpong Kerdkaew said their experience will only improve the team's chances at the Asian Cup.

Teerasil, who missed out on Thailand's AFF Suzuki Cup campaign last month when they exited in the semi-finals, was named captain by coach Milovan Rajevac. The 30-year-old striker, who plays for J1 League club Sanfrecce Hiroshima on loan from Muangthong United, is the only surviving member from Thailand's last Asian Cup appearance in 2007.

He has scored 42 goals in 95 appearances, while full-back Theerathon and midfielder Chanathip allow them to be more adventurous going forward.

"It is good to have them back in the squad. We are stronger with them in the team," said Chalermpong.

Thailand face India in their Group A opener tomorrow before meeting Bahrain and host UAE.

Despite their underdogs status, Thailand are targeting a first appearance in the knockout stages since 1972 when they finished third on home soil.

"I agree that all the teams that have qualified for the finals are strong, but we aren't afraid of anyone," Chalermpong added.

REUTERS

THAILAND FACTFILE

FIFA RANKING: 118

BEST PERFORMANCE: Third place (1972)

LAST EDITION: Did not qualify

COACH: Milovan Rajevac

KEY PLAYER: Chanathip Songkrasin (midfielder)


PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2019, with the headline 'Contenders and teams to watch'. Print Edition | Subscribe