Time out

The schedule at the Asian Cup has been a topic of debate throughout the tournament and shows no signs of letting up as the final approaches… (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Channel,  January 27th, 2015

Time was prematurely called on Japan’s participation at the Asian Cup, and the clock is steadily ticking down for the remaining sides in the competition as well.

The sands are not slipping by at a steady speed for the participants, though, and the unequal rest time for countries in the latter stages of the competition has caused much grumbling.

Iraq, like Japan, endured an energy-sapping 120 minutes and mentally-draining penalty shoot-out in their humdinger of a quarter-final with Iran on Friday, giving them just two days to recover and prepare for their semi-final against South Korea. Their opponents, however, were gifted an extra 24 hours to get their breath back, and duly emerged victorious at Stadium Australia on Monday.

“Regarding the recovery time, yes, there’s a disadvantage from the local organizing committee,” Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil said after his side’s defeat. “Maybe the Australian team, if they get to the final, will have four or five days of recovery. So that should have been organized well.”

While he’d confused his dates a little (in fact, the winner of the South Korea-Iraq game received the extra time before Saturday’s final), his point was valid, and also referred to by Uli Stielike.

The Taeguk Warriors boss was delighted that his team had been able to seize upon the LOC’s forward planning to trump Australia and gain some much-needed breathing space in the knockout rounds.

“For us in this tournament we had two important games,” he explained, citing the semi-final and last group match. “The first one was Australia because the deciders of the tournament – and this is [the case] in every [competition], a legal and normal way – that the host is trying to get the best way to reach to the final.

Iraq's fans had plenty of enthusiasm but ultimately time ran out for them

“So the design was made for Australia. But with our victory we were put in the position of Australia. That gave us the advantage to have one day more rest in the upcoming games. This was very important. If you saw how a lot of players finished the last game against Uzbekistan I’m not sure if we played yesterday that we could put all players in good condition on the pitch, so it was very important.”

Keisuke Honda had complained about the lack of recovery time even while the group stages were still ongoing, and questions are retrospectively being asked about Javier Aguirre’s decision to start all four of Japan’s games – contested within a 12-day period – with the same eleven players.

The Mexican wasn’t helped by the fact that Group D included tournament whipping boys Palestine – meaning the remaining three teams would almost certainly not be able to confirm progression until the final match, and that no risks could be taken – but would surely have benefited from giving a few of his key men a rest at some point.

The likes of Kosuke Ota and Yu Kobayashi didn’t get any minutes at all, and if they had against, say, Jordan in the final group game (when a draw was enough for the Samurai Blue to seal first place) then Yuto Nagatomo and Shinji Okazaki may have had a little more in the tank for the quarter-final defeat to UAE.

Of course this is all conjecture, and the introduction of the previously-underused Gaku Shibasaki did inject a bit of life into the team, while it was glaring misses by substitutes Yohei Toyoda and Yoshinori Muto that ultimately did for Japan.

Perhaps, like the rest of us – including the JFA, who apparently sent the majority of their luggage ahead to Newcastle in advance of the quarter-final loss – Aguirre had expected his team to progress further and was saving his reserve players for the battles that lay ahead.

The clock stopped earlier than anticipated, however, and it will be interesting to see if the Koreans can take advantage of their extra hours to emerge triumphant at the weekend.

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