Saturday 08 January 2011

Asian Cup Special 1 - Japan vs. Jordan preview



National team boss Alberto Zaccheroni has a defensive crisis to contend with as Japan prepare for their opening Asian Cup group match with Jordan in Doha tomorrow.

With both first-choice centre-backs, Yuji Nakazawa and Marcus Tulio Tanaka, already missing the tournament through injury, likely replacement Tomoaki Makino suffered an ankle sprain in training on Thursday, while Daiki Iwamasa is still struggling with a tendon problem picked up in the Emperor’s Cup quarter-final on Christmas Day.

To make matters worse, teenage rookie Gotoku Sakai has now also been ruled out of the competition altogether with lower back pain.

Ryota Moriwaki of Sanfrecce Hiroshima has already been drafted into the squad as a replacement for Sakai, and the team’s medical staff will wait right up until tomorrow morning’s deadline for further registration changes before deciding whether or not Makino and Iwamasa are likely to play any part in Qatar.

In what will be his first competitive test as Japan manager, Zaccheroni therefore looks likely to field a makeshift central defensive pair consisting of FC Tokyo utility man Yasuyuki Konno and 22-year-old Maya Yoshida of VVV Venlo, whose only previous cap came in a qualifying match against Yemen 12 months ago.

Despite rumours in the domestic press earlier in the week surrounding the possible deployment of a three-man defence, the Italian is expected to retain the 4-2-3-1 system used successfully in friendlies last autumn against Argentina and South Korea. Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe should resume their partnership at the base of midfield, with Shinji Kagawa in a left-sided attacking role and Keisuke Honda taking the coveted central position behind the lone forward.

Ryoichi Maeda, joint top scorer in last season’s J. League, is favourite to be granted the striking berth in the absence of Takayuki Morimoto, but Shinji Okazaki could alternatively be pushed further forward with Daisuke Matsui returning on the right-hand side of midfield.

Jordan are making just their second ever appearance in a continental finals, but will be buoyed by the memory of their previous campaign in 2004, when they reached the quarter-finals and took Japan all the way to a penalty shootout. Zico’s eventual champions even looked set for a shock exit as they trailed 3-1 after three kicks apiece, but the Jordanians then contrived to miss four times in a row after the referee controversially agreed to switch ends midway through.

Four of the current Jordan squad played that day in Chongqing, China. Coach Adnan Hamad will likely mirror Japan’s 4-2-3-1 formation, with the sole European-based player, Odai Al-Saify of Alky Larnaca in Cyprus, seen as the main goal threat.

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The host nation got off to a disappointing start when they were beaten 2-0 by Uzbekistan in the opening match on Friday evening. Odil Ahmedov opened the scoring with a superb 30-yard effort on the hour, before Server Djeparov took advantage of catastrophic Qatari defending to seal a comfortable win.

China moved joint top of Group A on Saturday with a 2-0 victory over Kuwait.


2011 AFC Asian Cup results
Group A
Qatar 0-2 Uzbekistan
Kuwait 0-2 China

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