Wednesday, July 25, 2007

History never threepeats

Japanese team in training

Japan coach Ivica Osim and his players are placing little faith in history ahead of tonight's Asian Cup semifinal against Saudi Arabia in Hanoi.

The two-time defending champions boast a 6-1-2 record against the underdog Saudis, cruising to a 3-1 win in their most recent meeting last year, but insist that the past will have no bearing on the upcoming encounter at My Dinh Stadium.

"We shouldn't dwell on history. We have to focus on the future. We'll see what happens (tonight) and then we can talk about history," Osim said, adding that Saudi Arabia have changed considerably since the teams last locked horns.
"They've changed coaches and are a new team that is completely different from last year. They've become much more aggressive and play a modern style of football. They have a couple of players who will be very difficult for us to handle."

One of those players is 24-year-old striker Yasser Al Qahtani, who is in the running for tournament MVP thanks to some sterling performances that have so far produced three goals, including one against Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals.
Japan's danger man, Shunsuke Nakamura, said his team would have to shut Al Qahtani down if they were to have any chance of advancing to the finals in Jakarta on July 29.

"I've watched the Saudis on TV and Al Qahtani is very dangerous. But thankfully it's not my job to cover him, it's Bomber's (Yuji Nakazawa)," Nakamura said. "It's a very important game because if we lose we've accomplished nothing. More than being physically ready, we need to be mentally prepared. We've still got a lot to improve but I want to us to go all the way."

A win for Japan could set up a mouthwatering final against regional rivals South Korea, who play Iraq in the other semifinal on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia were the victims of a nasty bit of scheduling following their quarterfinal on Sunday. The team was forced to fly to Vietnam for the semifinal, a journey that manager Helio Anjos said took a grueling 12 hours because there are no direct flights between Hanoi and Jakarta.

That deprived the Saudis of an entire day's training and the team is certain to struggle with its fitness this evening.
The mood in the Japan camp, meanwhile, is buoyant as Osim's men continue their quest to become the first nation since Iran in 1976 to lift three successive Asian Cups.
"The communication within the team is good and we have kept our focus on our ultimate goal, which is to win the cup," volante Keita Suzuki said at training earlier this week. "We keep urging each other to take it to the next level. We've hopefully got two more games ahead of us, both of which will be the most difficult of the tournament."

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