Time running out for big 4 ahead of Asian Cup
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Time is running out for Australia, Japan, Iran and South Korea, Asia’s four failed participants from the 2014 World Cup, to find form before the continental championship.
The regional heavyweight quartet collected just three points between them and finished bottom of their respective groups at Brazil. In total, the four teams have managed just five wins between them in their last 33 games.
Important friendlies during the international window will give managers a last chance to assess players before squads are selected for the Asian Cup, which kicks off in Australia in January.
There is a reasonable chance of a victory or two: South Korea travels to Iran on Tuesday while Japan and Australia, finalists in the 2011 Asian Cup, meet in Osaka.
Four days before the Australia game, Japan takes on Honduras on Friday in Toyota. Coach Javier Aguirre has won just one of four matches since taking over in August, a tepid 1-0 victory at home to Jamaica. He selected an experimental team that lost 4-0 to Brazil in October, prompting reports of concern within the JFA over the team’s direction.
For the matches against Honduras and Australia, Aguirre has recalled some familiar faces. Makoto Hasebe, 2010 and 2014 World Cup captain, returns along with midfield partner Yasuhito Endo. With defenders Yasuyuki Konno and Atusto Uchida on the list, the Japan lineup is likely to be an experienced one with Keisuke Honda of AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa also expected to start.
“I do have a team in mind for the Asian Cup,” Aguirre said. “I want to win these two games so we can head to Australia with our confidence high. This is the last opportunity to work with players firsthand before the Asian Cup.”
Still fresh in his job, Australia coach Ange Postecoglou has been searching for the Socceroos’ best combination. With one win from 10 games, pressure is building and the team has slumped to No. 94 in the FIFA rankings, the lowest in its history. A 0-0 draw with the United Arab Emirates and a defeat to Qatar last month didn’t help. The tinkering will finish next week.
“Beyond the Asian Cup will be World Cup qualifiers, that won’t be the time to throw players in or experiment,” Postecoglou said.
South Korea’s World Cup campaign was dire, but the team rebounded with some encouraging performances: defeats to Uruguay and Costa Rica were close, and sandwiched by exciting wins over Paraguay and Venezuela.
New South Korea coach Uli Stielike takes his first away trip — to Jordan and Iran — since being appointed in September.
“These are good tests for us,” Stielike said. “The Asian Cup is fast approaching and we need to be ready. Jordan and Iran will give us a good indication of where we are.”
Stielike’s recall of former Arsenal striker Park Chu-young has made headlines after the star’s poor World Cup, although the club form of Son Heung-min is cause for optimism. The Bayer Leverkusen striker scored both goals for the German club in last week’s 2-1 win over Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League and is expected to start for the Koreans against Iranian team that hasn’t played since the World Cup.
Seven of the 16 Asian Cup hopefuls are involved in the Gulf Cup, an eight-team tournament in West Asia. Host Saudi Arabia is expected to be in the running and has been grouped with Yemen, Bahrain and Qatar, Asia’s form team at the moment after wins over Australia, Uzbekistan, North Korea and Lebanon.