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Japan boss likens Asian Cup to Champions League

Former AC Milan boss Alberto Zaccheroni, leading Japan at the Asian Cup, pinpoints where his team needs to improve to progress in an event he likens to Europe's Champions League, a tournament that has never been kind to him

AFP, Thursday 13 Jan 2011
Alberto Zaccheroni during trainings in Doha(Photo: Reuters)
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"The Asian Cup is a short tournament. From my experience, I think it is similar to the Champions League," the Italian said ahead of Japan's crunch match against Syria following their 1-1 draw with Jordan.

"Every match is important in such a tournament so that our approach to the game should be strictly calm but never emotional," added the 57-year-old, nicknamed "Zac" at home.

He faces his first major crisis since taking the job from Takeshi Okada after the Blue Samurai reached the World Cup last-16 in South Africa in June.

Japan, three-time Asian Cup winners, barely survived their opening Group B match with a last-gasp equaliser after attempting 17 shots against the dogged defence of Jordan, ranked 75 places below them at 104 in the world.

Syria are raring to spring another surprise after shocking the other triple titlists Saudi Arabia 2-1.

"I am tasked with analysing the outcome of the Jordan game and calmly conveying it to the players," Zaccheroni said ahead of Thursday evening's game.

He said Japan must increase their speed of play and the accuracy of shots against Syria who he said would be basically as defensive as Jordan.

Japan's FA spent several months looking for a successor to Okada and formally signed Zaccheroni in September on a two-year deal with an option of two more, despite his lack of coaching experience abroad and at international level.

He has coached 13 Italian outfits, including several Serie-A sides, since 1983, piloting AC Milan to the 1999 Scudetto.

But in his three Champions League challenges, he could never lift his sides higher than the group stage -- with AC Milan 1999-2000, Lazio 2001-2001 and Inter Milan 2003-2004.

Despite Inter's humiliating 5-1 defeat to Arsenal at home in 2004, he helped them finish fourth in the Serie-A the same year.

"Japan occupy a very important position in Asia which is a geographicaly vast continent with different kinds of teams," said Zaccheroni, whose last job at home was a brief relief stint with Juventus last year.

He got off to a flying start as Japan coach as the Blue Samurai, led by CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda and Dortmund rookie Shinji Kagawa, beat a full-strength Argentina 1-0.

They then drew with South Korea 0-0 away, both in October.

"There are Middle East teams and others from East Asia, playing various styles of football," he said. "Middle East teams are very tough and determined not to give up.

"In this tournament, all teams are closely matched in strength and matches are often swayed by a single episode."

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