Three games three wins and no goals against: it has been a pleasing, though fairly straightforward start to the Asian Cup for Japan. Javier Aguirre’s side never looked in any danger during the group stages and will go into their quarter-final clash with UAE full of confidence. The match this Friday evening is likely to be the Samurai Blue’s biggest test to date; UAE impressed during the first round and in Omar Abdulrahman they have one of the most exciting players in the tournament.
By Matthew Hernon
Japan – It has been solid rather than spectacular from Japan so far. They’ve improved with every game and have achieved the results expected of them in what was a relatively easy group. They played some very good football in the final group game against Jordan and really should have won by more than two goals. The three clean sheets will have pleased the manager, with Masato Morishige and Maya Yoshida forming a decent partnership at the back. Bigger tests, however, await. Yasuhito Endo has shown his class in midfield alongside captain Makoto Hasebe; the pair keep things ticking along nicely in the middle of the park. Up front Keisuke Honda has won most of the headlines for his goals; however, tricky winger Takashi Inui has arguably been the standout attacking player.
UAE – Al-Abyad (the Whites) began the tournament in emphatic fashion trouncing Qatar 4–1 at Canberra Stadium. Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout both grabbed two goals apiece, but it was the creative presence of Omar Abdulrahman that really made the team tick. He was once again instrumental in the side’s narrow 2–1 victory in their following game against Bahrain and was man of the match in the group decider against Iran. Mahdi Ali’s men missed out on top spot thanks to a last minute goal by Reza Ghoochannejhad. It was a hammer blow for UAE who now face a much trickier tie in the quarter-finals against the defending champions. The head coach blamed referee Ryuji Sato for the defeat, stating, “I’m surprised the AFC appointed a Japanese referee when we could be facing Japan.”
Yasuhito Endo – 151 caps and counting, Yasuhito Endo’s international career looked like it was over after he was dropped for Javier Aguirre’s first four games in charge. The 34-year-old was then recalled to the side after some disappointing displays from the Samurai Blue and unsurprisingly results and performances have improved since. The elegant midfielder was characteristically modest when he was informed by a reporter that he had tied with legendary German World Cup winner Lothar Matthäus by winning his 150th cap for his country against Iraq, saying “Me going level with Matthäus is a bit of an insult to Matthäus. But winning so many caps is obviously something I can be proud of, and matching Matthäus is another thing I can look back on and boast about when I`m no longer playing.”
Omar Abdulrahman – Tipped to be one of the stars of the Asian Cup, Abdulrahman has more than lived up to expectations. The man with the distinctive afro haircut – who has reportedly attracted interest from the likes of Man City, Liverpool and Hamburg – was probably the tournament’s best player during the opening stages. He lit up stadiums with his outrageous skills and superb vision in the first three games. Such has been his influence so far, Japan coach Javier Aguirre has had to warn his players not to focus solely on the 23-year-old. “I have watched the UAE’s games and I think he (Abdulrahman) is a wonderful player and European teams are looking at his high level play,” Aguirre said. “But one player can’t win games.” That is true of course, but if UAE are to have any chance of causing an upset against Japan, Abdulrahman will have to be at the top of his game.
Image of Yasuhito Endo: Asian Cup Official Page