Troussier: 2000 triumph an amazing memory
Kuala Lumpur: Former Japan coach Philippe Troussier recalls one of the greatest moments in his career: winning the 2000 AFC Asian Cup in Lebanon.
The vastly-experienced Troussier has a coaching CV that extends back over 35 years and counting.
It includes a runners-up finish at the 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup, an historic Round of 16 place at the 2002 FIFA World Cup but the continental title he won in Asia remains one of the most glorious memories.
The 63-year-old Parisian joined the-AFC.com for an exclusive look back to his crowning achievement as a coach.
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"When I took charge in 1998 I was responsible for three categories of the team and four key tournaments. The U-19 side for the 1999 FIFA U-19 World Cup, the Olympic side for the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, and the senior team for the 2000 AFC Asian Cup and 2002 FIFA World Cup.
I took charge of more than 100 players in the three categories and I built a laboratory - an educational system - regarding strategy, tactics, communication, and process. I gave the players the same message for all three year categories. It was important to educate the players this way throughout the whole set-up.
The AFC Asian Cup in 2000 was of course a high-level tournament and we had a very young team going into it. I would say 70 to 80 percent were under 23 years old.
After coming to Lebanon directly after defeat in the semi-finals of the Sydney Olympics, I went to Beirut and saw the trophy on display.
When I saw it I had a feeling: This cup is for us. I believe in signs, and so I believed in the beginning of the tournament we would win."
The Group Stage
"All the group stage games were very tough, but our team was so talented, they could manage the ball. This generation of players were so good, and they were able to adapt to my philosophy of keeping the ball.
I told them before the group stage began, if we have the ball, manage the ball, then we don’t need to defend. The first line of defence is retaining possession of the ball. We had to communicate, to be always available on the pitch, and to be united.
Of our group stage opponents, I would say Uzbekistan was the best team we faced, very offensive and very good players. Even though we won by a large margin [8-1] it absolutely didn’t reflect the quality of our opponents. They played nice football and had good players, but at the end we won. I am, though, unsurprised that such a talented side can now be considered a contender at AFC Asian Cup 2019.
In our final tie [having beaten Saudi Arabia 4-1 in the opener] we drew with Qatar, no excuses from me: we had already qualified for the knockout stage. I used this last match to give the other squad players a chance.
I should stress, it wasn’t a reserve team, because I prefer to consider it simply like this: the players who started and those who didn’t start. Like basketball, I don’t like to use the term substitutes or A or B team, its totally a squad game for me."
The Knockout Stage
"As I earlier alluded to, football can often be like basketball, in some cases things can be very even and level but suddenly one team is effectively 20 points ahead. That's what happened in the quarter-final against Iraq. They opened the scoring after just four minutes, but we equalised almost immediately and by 30 minutes were 3-1 up.
It's never easy going down a goal early especially when you have young players, it’s important to see how they react. As it turns out we equalised quickly which helped our morale and the momentum a lot.
In the semi-final we faced China PR, who were coached by my good friend Bora Milutinovic. So the challenge, for me, was to beat him! It was very difficult as China were a very good team back then.
In some ways, we were lucky. We cannot say we played much better than China. In any semi-final at this level, the difference comes from small details, and those turned out to be in our favour; particularly when we equalised shortly after they went 2-1 up.
I was so happy to beat China, because we all know of the football rivalry and history between China and Japan."
"Everyone in Japan expected that we would beat Saudi Arabia as we had beaten them in the group stage. But the truth yesterday is not the same as the truth tomorrow. It was a totally different scenario. We had a lot of pressure and I would say that Saudi Arabia had nothing to lose since they were the underdogs.
On the morning of the game, I put a lot more pressure on my players, trying a new psychological approach. I wanted to present this match as completely different to the players, and I made sure they totally forgot about the group stage meeting.
It was a tight game, and there was no difference between the two sides. The final was not easy by any means but as I said at the beginning I knew we were destined to win and that's how it turned out. It was, of course, a great moment for us to lift the title."
"I have very good memories of the 2000 AFC Asian Cup. We played so well; the best defence, the best attack. We played 3-5-2, a new modern approach to the tournament, and, of course, it was a positive step towards the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Winning the AFC Asian Cup like we did helped us prove that Japan football is alive and kicking, and made Europe sit up and take notice.
The performance of Japan at such a high level tournament showed to Europe that Asian sides could not be taken for granted and would compete at the upcoming FIFA World Cup, and that turned out to be the case.
For me personally, when you are a coach and you win a title people around you trust you more and believe in your way of doing things, and that's especially important during the contract renewal process!
Looking back on it now, I have to say that winning the AFC Asian Cup was a great memory and I remain so proud to have been the coach of this team."
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