Japan, Qatar, UAE and Vietnam have been drawn in Group B, based in Hanoi.
‘You’re going down’: Japan coach Ivica Osim, left, and
Japan, three-time Asian Cup winners and current defending champions, are treating their opening match against Qatar in the same way they would if it was Brazil or Italy, according to coach Ivica Osim.
“Qatar is for me the same as Italy or Brazil,” Osim said ahead of the clash with the Gulf nation on Monday at the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi.
“The next game is always the most important in football.
“I know the Qatar side knows about our team. Both sides have huge information but it will be decided in 90 minutes, not before or not after,” added the 66-year-old.
Dzemaludin Musovic, Qatar coach and fellow Bosnian, was Osim’s assistant when they guided the former Yugoslavia to the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals.
Musovic admitted Japan were ‘excellent in the quality of players’, and that they play
‘collective football’ led by Celtic playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura.
“Japan on paper are the favourites in this competition,” Musovic said.
“About the result, it will be open and nobody is sure how the game will be finished.”
Boasting a team largely of J-League players, Japan were slowly peaking just a week after the domestic competition shut down, according to goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, who helped Japan to Asian Cup triumphs in 2000 and 2004.
“We are training very well and we have good combinations and good teamwork so we are like challengers and have no pressure,” he said.
Japan, springing back from a winless exit from the World Cup in Germany last year, are led up front by Naohiro Takahara, Frankfurt striker, with the back four held together by Yuji Nakazawa, a solid defender.
Injury worries for Qatar
Qatar, who won the 2004 Gulf Cup and the 2006 Asian Games title both on home soil since Musovic took their helm, are struggling with injury problems which the coach attempted to play down on Sunday.
The injured players are defender Wesam Abdulmajid and Uruguyan-born striker Sebastian Soria, who is the core of Qatar’s offense with former Manchester City winger Hussain Abdulrahman.
Abdulmajid was injured in a recent friendly in Thailand and Soria, 18, who gained Qatari citizenship last year, hurt his left leg in practice on Saturday.
Musovic said Abdulmajid remained a doubt but Soria “will be ready for the game.”
“We can find good solutions. We have about 20 good players. We will wait unitl the last minute to decide who will play,” Musovic said.
Saad Alshammari, Qatari captain, added: “We are not afraid of Japan. We are going to qualify for the second round despite the injuries.”
Qatar have already lost midfielder Khalfan Ibrahim, the current Asian Player of the Year, to injury.
Asked about fighting a team under his old friend Musovic, Osim said, “There are no relations between a game and a private relationship.
“We are good friends but there is no connection there.”