Zaccheroni starts with observation role for Japan

For new Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni, Friday’s friendly

against Paraguay will give him a glimpse of what he’s got to work

with at the Asian Cup.

Unfortunately for the former AC Milan and Juventus coach, he’ll

have to watch from a distance while Japan Football Association

technical director Hiromi Hara takes charge as an interim manager

for the Paraguay match and another friendly against Guatemala in

Osaka three days later.

The 57-year-old Zaccheroni was appointed as head coach Monday on

a two-year deal to take over from Takeshi Okada, but is yet to

receive a work permit for Japan. So, the first Italian to coach

Japan faces some hurdles in his first major task of preparing a

squad for Asian Cup group matches against Saudi Arabia, Syria and

Jordan in January.

Japan, the three-time Asian Cup champion, reached the second

round of the World Cup in South Africa before losing in a penalty

shootout to Paraguay. Just nine weeks later, the teams meet again

in Yokohama.

”We must finish in the top three of the Asian Cup,” Zaccheroni

told reporters after his appointment this week, already dismissing

thoughts of World Cup revenge. ”Japan certainly have the strength

to do it, and we must do it.”

His aim after that is a quarterfinal place at the 2014 World

Cup.

Japan was fourth at the 2007 Asian Cup, missing out on an

automatic qualifying spot for the 2011 edition. Iraq was a surprise

winner, beating Saudi Arabia in the final, while South Korea was

third.

The South Koreans have lined up a friendly in Seoul next week

against Iran, which plays China three days earlier.

In the last meeting, in June 2009, a late goal from Manchester

United’s Park Ji-sung ended Iran’s dreams of qualification for the

2010 World Cup.

Park is one of 14 overseas players summoned for the clash at the

same Seoul World Cup Stadium to take on Iran, with young Ajax

striker Seo Hyuk-jun receiving a first call-up from new coach Cho

Kwang-rae.

There will be a familiar figure preparing the opposition squad

in the shape of Iran’s Afshin Ghotbi. Ghotbi has been Iran’s head

coach since March 2009, though made his name with spells as South

Korea assistant at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

The two Asian powerhouses are hoping to end continental

droughts. South Korea lifted the last of its two Asian Cup titles

in 1960, while Iran picked up its third trophy in 1976.

”My aim is for Iran to make it to the final after 35 years and

become champions. We will do our best to make 75 million Iranians

happy,” Ghotbi said. Iran is grouped with Kuwait, Uzbekistan and

hosts Qatar at the Asian Cup.

Australia, preparing for only its second Asian Cup, will play

Switzerland at St. Gall on Friday, a match between two teams that

fell at the first hurdle in South Africa.

New coach Holger Osieck is ready for his first match since his

appointment in August.

His squad has not been as fresh as some would like with 16 out

of the 23 who went to South Africa making the 20-man squad.

Osieck, who was assistant coach to Franz Beckenbauer with the

West Germany team which won the 1990 World Cup, is taking things

slowly as he prepares for the continental tournament and games with

South Korea, India and Bahrain.

”You can’t make radical changes with players you don’t even

know,” he told the Australian media. ”I saw the Socceroos live at

the World Cup and I want to give those players the first

opportunity.

”I want to go there (Asian Cup) with a team that has the

definite option to be successful and probably finish on top.

”If you have players with the experience of two World Cups, who

play in decent competitions, then the likelihood of achieving that

is better than if you have 19- and 20-year-old boys.”

Osieck has quickly been confronted with the realities of

international football with the withdrawals of Harry Kewell, Josh

Kennedy and Michael Beauchamp due to injury for the next

friendlies.

Four days after the Switzerland match, Australia travels to

Krakow to take on Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland.

Hosts of the 2011 Asian Cup, Qatar take on Bahrain and Oman in

other friendlies this week. On Sept. 8 in New Delhi, two English

coaches go head-to-head.

Former England and Manchester United captain Bryan Robson will

guide Thailand against India, led by ex-Fulham midfielder Bob

Houghton.

Houghton, former coach of China and Uzbekistan, is preparing

India for its first appearance at the Asian Cup since 1984.