After World Cup, top Asia squads in transition

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After World Cup, top Asia squads in transition


Yoon Bitgaram reacts after scoring the first goal in Korea’s friendly match against Nigeria in Suwon, south of Seoul, on Wednesday. [YONHAP]

Asia’s four top football teams at the World Cup are going through transitional phases less than five months before the start of the 2011 Asian Cup, while other teams in the region appear to have had better preparation.

Korea and Australia are starting regimes under new coaches, Japan is leaderless and - along with North Korea - has not played since June.

Rivals China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, have been preparing for the Asian competition ever since failing to make the World Cup qualifiers last year.

The first series of international friendlies since the World Cup had mixed results for Asian Football Confederation members on Wednesday, with Korea beating Nigeria 2-1 and Australia losing 2-0 to Slovenia.

It was an improved game for the Koreans following a 2-2 draw with Nigeria at the World Cup, though the earlier win helped the team into the second round of the World Cup and consigned the Africans to the bottom of the group.

Much has changed since. Korea’s new coach, Cho Kwang-rae, opted for a 3-4-3 formation and debuted four young players. Yoon Bitgaram, 20, grabbed a stylish opener early in the match and the impressive Choi Hyo-jin scored the winning goal just before the break.

“We have been trying hard to adapt to the coach’s style of football,” said captain Park Ji-sung, who plays for Manchester United.

“We tried to play at a high tempo and move the ball around quickly. We need more time, but it was a good start.”

Australia, Korea’s Asian Cup group opponent, conceded two late goals at Ljubljana from Zlatko Dedic and Zlatan Ljubijankic, giving the Europeans a deserved win.

The game was overshadowed, however, by the appointment of Holger Osieck as Socceroos coach several hours before kickoff. Osieck was assistant coach of the German team that won the 1990 World Cup.

Osieck watched from the sidelines while caretaker coach Han Berger led the Socceroos, without stars such as Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell.

“It was a difficult game for us and we were not able to create too many chances,” Berger told Australian television. “Our main problem was that we turned the ball over too much, too early, too quickly and too often and then you’re under pressure and in certain moments you pay for that.”

Japan and North Korea won’t be in action until September.

Bahrain was impressive in a 1-1 draw with China in Nanning.

Iran won the last of its three Asian titles back in 1976 and has been preparing for the 2011 version for 12 months. Those preparations continued with a 3-1 win over Armenia with two goals from Mohammad Nosrati.

“We want to win the title in the Asian Cup,” Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi said. “This is our first priority and the number of Iranian fans will also increase if we win the crown.”

Three-time Asian champion and 2007 finalist Saudi Arabia defeated Togo 1-0.

“Saudi Arabia cannot enter any competition in Asia without aiming to win,” the team’s Portuguese coach, Jose Peseiro, said earlier this week. “The Asian Cup is the most important tournament for us. Our goal is to win.”

Asian Cup host Qatar managed a 1-1 draw with Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo to increase hopes of reaching the latter stages in January.

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