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Five things to watch this international break

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Kuala Lumpur: Four months after the end of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, national teams from across Asia are making personnel changes both on the pitch and in the dugout. looks at how some sides are approaching this international break.

Evolution, not revolution for Uzbekistan

After his first tournament in charge of Uzbekistan, the AFC Asian Cup, ended in a Round-of-16 exit at the hands of Australia, Hector Cuper made nine changes to his squad ahead of friendlies with Turkey, DPR Korea and Syria.

Following the retirement of iconic goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov, it was Pakhtakor’s Eldor Suyunov who was handed the starting spot between the sticks in Antalya as the Uzbeks fell to a 2-0 defeat on Sunday.

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Notable absences from the AFC Asian Cup squad included Sardor Rashidov, Marat Bikmaev and the injured Otabek Shukurov. Meanwhile, there were debuts from the bench for 18-year-old defender Oston Urunov and goalkeeper Botirali Ergashev, while midfielder Kuvondik Ruziev was handed a first start.

Next up for the White Wolves are home encounters against DPR Korea on Friday and Syria on June 11.

Continuity Key for Qatar

Asian champions Qatar are preparing for their second continental tournament in six months. The Maroons arrived to Brazil last week ahead of their Copa America debut. Qatar and Japan have been invited for South America’s top international tournament.

Coach Felix Sanchez made three changes to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup winning squad; full-back Abdulkarim Al Ali and midfield pair Abdelrahman Moustafa and Khaled Mohammed make way as 2015 AFC Young Player of the Year Ahmed Moein returns, having missed the January showpiece through injury. Al Mahdi Ali and Abdullah Abdulsalam also made the cut.

Qatar have been pitted against Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay, against who they kick-off their Copa America campaign on June 16.

Before that, Sanchez’s men will take on hosts Brazil on Wednesday in preparation for the tournament.

Eyes on Tokyo 2020

The other 2019 AFC Asian Cup finalists, Japan, are also heading to Brazil for Copa America. But their coach Hajime Moriyasu is approaching the competition in a completely different fashion to Qatar’s Sanchez.

Winger Gaku Shibasaki will be the only man contesting both continental tournaments for the Samurai Blue as Moriyasu has named an U-23 side supported by a handful of veterans such as goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and striker Shinji Okazaki.

In selecting 17 new faces to the Samurai Blue squad, the 50-year-old manager makes clear his intentions as the eyes of the nation remain focused on the Olympic Games which Tokyo hosts in just over a year.

The Japanese youngsters will test their abilities against Uruguay, Ecuador and Chile in Group C. Their preparations for the tournament see them taking on Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday then El Salvador on Sunday.

Wilmots’ First Sight

A new era is underway in Tehran after Carlos Queiroz’s eight-year spell in charge of Team Melli ended with a disappointing AFC Asian Cup semi-final exit at the hands of Japan.

Taking over is former Belgium and Cote d’Ivoire boss Marc Wilmots. Having officially joined only on June 1, the 50-year-old is unlikely to have had the time to make squad selections. Instead, Wilmots has enlisted the services of former Iranian international forward Vahid Hashemian as his assistant.

For his first match, the Belgian has a squad largely based on the last one picked by his predecessor. Persepolis’ Ali Alipour has been brought in for the injured Sardar Azmoun.

Islamic Republic of Iran last faced Syria in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, back in September 2017. The game at Azadi Stadium ended in a 2-2 draw, with the absent Azmoun netting both goals for Team Melli.

Asian return for van Marwijk

Another manager getting to know his new team is Bert van Marwijk. The former Saudi Arabia and Australia boss has been appointed as UAE coach, replacing Alberto Zaccheroni following the Whites elimination from the AFC Asian Cup on home soil at the semi-final stage.

Van Marwijk will not have his new side tested in an official friendly but will take the team on a nine-day training camp in the Austrian city of Salzburg.

Unlike Wilmots, van Marwijk has had time to watch several UAE Pro League games, and has instantly set out to make changes in the Whites’ ranks. An ageing defence has been revamped with 20-year-old Khalifa Al Hammadi and 22-year-old Shaker Ali replacing Fares Juma and Walid Abbas, a pair with a combined age of 63.

Talisman Omar Abdulrahman returns from an Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury that had ruled him out of the AFC Asian Cup.

Photos: AFP, AFC

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