Preview: 2015 AFC Asian Cup – Group D
Japan will go through quite easily, while Iraq and Jordan should fight for the second place: Palestine shouldn’t stand any chance, but they could make both Iraq and Jordan drop precious points.
This is surely one of the big favorite to win the Title, that would be theit fifth AFC Asian Cup (Japan won 4 of the last 6 Editions): J. League is one of the best League in Asia, moreover there are some footballers playing in the best European leagues, mostly in Germany, but also in Italy and England.
2014 World Cup ended quite disappointingly (just 1 draw with Greece and two deafeats), so the manager Alberto Zaccheroni was sacked and was replaced by the experienced Mexican Javier Aguirre, who has managed twice his National Team, leading it to two WC Final Stage (2002 and 2010), and few important clubs, such as Atlante FC, CF Pachuca, CA Osasuna, Atlético Madrid, Real Zaragoza and RCD Espanyol.
Having some physical limits, the Japanese NT has to play a very fast and very technical football, and that often results in quite enjoyable style of play.
GK Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), a regular starter in the Belgian Championship, should be quite reliable: in the defence the sides are well patrolled by Yuto Nagatomo (FC Inter)and Gōtoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart), while Atsuto Uchida (FC Schalke 04) was ruled out by an injury just before the start of the Competition; while in the centre the key player is Maya Yoshida (FC Southampton).
In the midfield there’s a lot of experience with Captain Makoto Hasebe (30, Eintracht Frankfurt, before he had played for Wolfsburg for years), Yasuyuki Konno (31, Gamba Osaka) and, most of all, Yasuhito Endō (34, a symbol of Gamba Osaka), who is a midfielder very charismatic, complete and creative, an excellent playmaker that can tackle and score as well, especially on set pieces, that anyway in the National Team will be probably taken by Keisuke Honda, while the star Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) is younger but not less experienced at international level.
But the most dangerous players of the team are probably the wingers Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Hiroshi Kiyotake (1. FC Nürnberg) and Takashi Inui (Eintracht Frankfurt), who can all score goals and assist the teammates.
A weakness of this team has often been the lack of a top striker that is able to score regularly at international level: after playing few season as a winger, Shinji Okazaki (1. FSV Mainz 05), who has scored quite regularly with NT, is playing as central forward again and he’s having a good season in Bundesliga, so he will be crucial, otherwise Keisuke Honda could be adapted in this position and play as “false nine”.
They went close to play 2014 World Cup, as they reached the Inter-continental Play-off, their best result in WC Qualifiers and the last step before Final Stage: anyway they’ve been quite unlucky, because they had to face a South American team, and Uruguay was too strong. Anyway, they can’t be bad if they reached that Stage !
All the squad members are currently playing in the Middle East, in the local Leagues or in other Arab Countries, such as Saudi Arabia (6), Qatar (1), Kuwait (2) and Bahrain (2), whose level should be higher.
Amer Shafi (32, Al-Wehdat SC, 102 caps with Jordan) will be the starting GK, while in the defence, that looks the best part of the team, the most notable names should be the centre-backs Tareq Khattab (Al Shabab FC, Saudi Arabia), Anas Bani Yaseen (Al-Ra’ed SC, Saudi Arabia), Mohammad Mustafa (Al-Khor SC, Qatar) and the full-backs Oday Zahran (Shabab Al-Ordon Club, right) and Mohammad Al-Dmeiri (Al-Ittihad FC, Saudi Arabia, left).
The midfield is very young, considering that there are six players who are no more than 22, and nine who are no more than 24: we would point out the CMs Raja’i Ayed (Al-Wehdat SC), Saeed Murjan (Al-Ramtha SC) and the winger Khalil Zaid Bani Attiah (Al-Faisaly FC, Saudi Aradia).
The main forwards are Abdallah Deeb (Al-Riffa SC, Bahrain, he had played in Belgium for KV Mechelen for one season), who can play as winger as well, Odai Al Saify (Al-Salmiya SC, Kuwait), who in the past played in Greece (Skoda Xanthi) and Cyprus (AKI Larnaka), Hamza Al-Dardour (Al-Khaleej Club, Saudi Arabia) and Ahmad Ayel (Al-Arabi SC, Kuwait).
But the most famous name of the team is the Manager, Ray Wilkins, the former English International and Chelsea FC, Manchester United, AC Milan, PSG, Ranfers FC and QPR midfielder.
This team is very interesting: they won this Competiton in 2007, and it looked a big shock, but, to be honest, they have always reached at least the Quarter-finals since 1996 (5 editions).
Few footballers play in Europe, one even in USA, while the Iraqi teams are performing quite well in AFC Cup (the second club competition in Asia), so the local Championships isn’t awful as well: there are stronger squads in this Tournament, they shouldn’t be able to become Champions, but they could reach (again) the Quarter-finals, and maybe the Semi-finals as well.
This team is clearly the youngest of this Competion, as there are 19 of 23 players that were born no before than 1991: the reason of that is that the successfull squad that reached the second place at the 2012 AFC U-19 Championship and the fourth one at 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup has almost entirely been transferred to the Senior National Team by the manager Radhi Shenaishil, a former Iraqi International.
All of the goalkeepers are very young, and that’s quite strange, because usually GKs are among the most experienced players: Jalal Hassan (23, Erbil SC) is the older one, and he should fight for a place in the goal with Mohammed Hameed Farhan (Al Shorta SC).
Salam Shaker (28, Al Shorta SC) is the most experienced defender, while CB Ahmad Ibrahim Khalaf (Ayman Club, UAE) and the left backs Ali Adnan Kadhim (21, Çaykur Rizespor, Turkish first tier), who is both one of the strongest and one of the most promising element of the team and he is son e niece of important footballers (especially his uncle), and his replacement Dhurgham Ismail (20, Al Shorta SC) are names to note.
In the middle of the pitch the most interesting players should be Yaser Kasim (Swindown Town FC, English third tier), Saad Abdul-Amir (Erbil SC), the winger Ahmed Yasin (Örebro SK ,Swedish first tier) and the attacking midfielder Humam Tariq (Al Dhafra SSC, UAE), who is only 18 and has already collected 26 caps with Iraqi NT.
The Captain Younis Mahmoud (31, unattached) was the protagonist of 2007 triumph and is the most experienced player of the squad (51 goals in 132 matches), and still one of the best ones, even if he’s currently without club: he spent the majority of his career in the Middle East, but we really would have liked to see him playing in Europe to test his level somewhere else.
Alaa Abdul-Zahra (27, Al Shorta SC), who can also play as attacking midfielder, and the US-born Justin Meram (Columbus Crew SC, MLS, American first tier) are the main other offensive options.
Palestinian National Team, after a short existance during 30′s - when it was formed only by Jewish players - was born again, despite the controversial status of its land, in 1998, but has often had to face bureaucratic issues because of the troubled situation in Middle East.
Ramzi Saleh (34, Masr El Makasa, Egyptian Premier League ), is the Captain and one of the most experienced player of the team (surely the most capped), while the most important defenders are Alexis Norambuena (30, GKS Belchatow, Polish top tier: he was born in Chile, where there is a quite large Palestinian comunity), Abdelatif Bahdari (Al-Wehdat SC, Jordan), Mousa Abu Jazar (Shabab Al-Khalil SC) and Ahmed Harbi Mahajna (Markaz Shabab Al-Am’ari, he has also played in Israeli second tier).
The best midfielders should be Ismail Al-Amour (Hilal Al-Quds Club), Khader Yousef (Taraji Wadi Al-Nes), the wingers Hussam Abu Saleh (Hilal Al-Quds Club), who has a decent experience in the Israeli first tier, and Jaka Ihbeisheh (NK Krka, Slovenian first tier) and the attacking midfielder Abdelhamid Abuhabib (Markaz Balata).
The most dangerous offensive weapons should be Ashraf Nu’man (Al-Faisaly FC), who usually play as winger or offensive midfielder and should be one of the strongest player in the squad, the promising Mahmoud Eid (21, Nyköpings BIS, Swedish third tier) and Ahmad Maher Wridat (Shabab Al-Dhahiriya SC).
The manager is Saeb Jendeya, a former Palestinian International, will lead the team in thier first historical appearance at AFC Asian Cup, to whom the qualified after winning AFC Challenge Cup.