Asian Cup draw
By Tim Maitland
April 27, 2000
The draw for the finals of the 12th Asian Cup has pitted together two
of the region's superpowers, the defending champions Saudi Arabia and Japan,
in the same group:
The two nations, who between them have claimed the last four Asian
titles and whose teams have also dominated the Asian club competitions,
will face each other in the opening match of Group C in Saida.
The clash will renew a long-standing rivalry as the only time the Saudis
have failed to win the tournament since 1980 was eight years ago when they
lost to the Japanese in the final in Hiroshima.
After the draw, held at Beirut's Palais UNESCO, neither country was
admitting to being concerned about having to face each other at Lebanon
2000 along with the other Group C teams Qatar and Uzbekistan.
Group A: Lebanon, IR Iran, Iraq, Thailand.
Group B: Korea Republic, PR China, Kuwait, Indonesia.
Group C: Saudi Arabia, Japan, Qatar, Uzbekistan.
"With all due respect to the other teams, whoever is thinking
of winning the cup should not fear any other teams" said His Royal
Highness Prince Waleed bin Bader bin Saud of the Saudi Football Federation.
"It is a strong group, but if we want to win the cup we must not
worry about the draw. Saudi Arabia and Japan will be a great match, it
always will be whether it is at national or club level, because we are
both at the top of Asian Football. Perhaps we might meet again in the final."
Junji Ogura of the Japan Football Association was equally as cool about
facing the Saudis, claiming that playing them in the opening game was the
best start they could have.
"I think it is better to have the first game against one of the
strongest teams," said Ogura. It will be a good test for Japan. We
will have our three European-based players, Hidetoshi Nakata (AS Roma),
Hiroshi Nanami (Venezia) and Shoji Jo (Real Valladolid), so we will be
a good test for them too.
"It is an interesting group because we have two countries from
the Gulf, one from the former Soviet Union and ourselves. The styles of
football will be very different, but it will be very competitive
The unluckiest countries in the draw are the other Group C teams, Qatar
and Uzbekistan. They will somehow have to fashion a draw against one of
the giants of Asian football and make sure that there is a winner in their
own encounter if one of them is to reach the next stage.
"I'm not very happy," exclaimed Qatar's Bosnian coach Jamal
Haji. "Our group is the strongest group. Now I have a headache."
Iran, winners of the Asian Cup in 1968, 1972 and 1976, were the nation
with most to smile about after avoiding any of the big sides. They were
drawn in Group A along with the hosts Lebanon and two sides they faced
in the last Asian Cup, Iraq and Thailand.
"It's a less experienced group," said their coach Jalal Talebi.
"But the other teams are not weak, just inexperienced."
Talebi's caution is understandable as Iraq beat them 2-1 in a memorable
match in Dubai in the 1996 edition of the competition. Inevitably their
meeting, scheduled for the 50,000 capacity City Sportive in Beirut, drew
attention for it's political connotations although these were quickly played
down by the Iranian coach.
"I don't believe this is a problem. We're not playing against
their government," said Talebi. "It'll be a very strong match,
but a very fair match. It's a great match. It always is when we play Iraq.
It's always emotional and important, but it is always very sporting. I
know you're going to see a good game."
Lebanon, although they don't have a great tradition in Asian football,
also concerned Talebi, who coached Iran at the 1998 World Cup. The two
sides will meet straight after the opening ceremony in front of what is
certain to be a passionate capacity crowd in the City Sportive.
"Their national pride will be at stake," he says. "Maybe
it would have been easier to play them in the third game. They beat our
under-23 team recently and I know they are developing."
With the top two from each group and the two best third-placed teams
all going through to the quarter finals Iran, Saudi Arabia and Japan should
have few problems reaching the second phase. The toughest group of all
may well be Group B, where World Cup regulars and 1980 Asian champions
Korea Republic and Kuwait will be a serious obstacle to China's ambition
to finally realise some of their potential at international level.
Jalal Talebi - coach IR Iran
Ours is a less experienced group. The other teams are not weak, but
they are inexperienced. We have more experience than teams like Lebanon.
It is not as difficult as the other groups, but it is never playing the
host country especially in the first game. Their national pride will be
at stake. Maybe it would have been easier to play them in the third game.
The group is almost the same as in 96, except that instead of Saudi
Arabia it is Lebanon.
I don't believe that it is a problem to play Iraq. We are not playing
their government. It will be a strong, but fair match. It is a great match.
It always is when we play Iraq. It's always emotional and important, but
it's always sporting. I know you're going to see a good game.
I can't say 100 per cent that we will be champions, but I can't say
that for anyone else. We will be here to reach the final. I'm sure we'll
be in the final. We have a chance to win the championship.
Our problem is that we won't have a chance to practice and develop
the teamwork with our overseas players, but they are experienced and they
can help us. We'll have to arrange two or three friendlies because it is
the only way we can get our overseas players with the team.
We are happy to be in Lebanon and we are happy to be playing our matches
in Beirut because we have a lot of fans there.
I hope every team plays good football.
Jamal Taha - Captain, Lebanon
It's not an group. But we've played Iran and Thailand recently and
I think we can reach the second round. It's 11 versus 11, but the crowd
will be our number 12.
I played in the Asian All Stars against Iran and I saw Daei and Azizi
and the other Iranian professionals. They are good players but Iranian
football is not as quick as China or Japan.
We mustn't get stressed before the first game (against Iran) otherwise
it will be like a big stone facing us.
I hope between now and the tournament we can build a good spirit and
pass to the second round. I hope we'll do something for our fans. We needed
to have a weaker team in our group, it's good for the confidence of the
There will be many (scouts) coming to see the games and to look especially
at the younger players. So we must work hard as a group and if anyone has
a chance afterwards to play outside Lebanon it will be good for Lebanese
football and for the national team also.
It's exciting because the tournament is good for Lebanon and the Lebanese
people. We can show that Lebanese people are good hardworking people. Everyone
from our government and the federation down is working hard.
Bashar Ali - Treasurer, Iraq Olympic Committee
It's good for us because we have met these teams recently. Thailand
and Iran were in the same group as us at the 1996 Asian Cup. All of the
groups are good though, they are all strong.
There is no problem between Iran and Iraq. I'm looking forward to the
match. The two teams are the best in the region. Iran have won the Asian
Cup three times and Iraq are improving as you have seen with our teams
in the Club Championship and the Cup Winners' Cup.
His Royal Highness Prince Waleed bin Bader bin Saud - Saudi Football
"With all due respect to the other teams whoever thinks of winning
the cup should not fear other teams. It is a strong group, but if we want
to win the cup we must not worry about the draw. Saudi Arabia and Japan
will be a great match, it always will be whether it is at national or club
level, because we are both at the top of Asian Football. Perhaps we might
meet again in the final."
Junji Ogura - Japan Football Association
I think it's better to have the first game against one of the strongest
teams (Japan play Saudi Arabia in Saida). The first game will be a very
good test for Japan. But we have our European based players, Nakata, Nanami
and Shoji Jo, so we'll be a good test for Saudi Arabia too.
The Japanese team has had few chances to play in the Gulf countries
so the Asian Cup will be a good experience.
The type of football in the group will be very different because we
have two countries from the Gulf, one from the former Soviet Union and
ourselves. It will be very competitive.
Jamal Haji - Coach, Qatar
You must understand that Saudi Arabia have won the Asian Cup three times
and Japan have won it once. Uzbekistan are also very strong. But we have
beaten teams like Kuwait and Iran. I respect all teams, but I respect my
I'm not very happy, because our group is the strongest group. But I'm
not afraid of anyone.
I have a headache now and I think I must change my mind about some
I'm a hard worker and I have always believed that one day I would have
a chance like this. This is also a good challenge for me, a good test of
my level as a coach.
Mentally our final qualifying match against Jordan was good preparation.
Now our players believe in themselves.
Dato Peter Velappan - General Secretary, Asian Football Confederation
The level and the quality of the teams has improved dramatically since
the Asian Cup in the United Arab emirates in 1996. There's an interesting
mix of teams with professional, semi-professional and amateur players.
On paper Group A look a little lighter than the others, but on the
field of play it will be different.