ASIAN CUP 2011 update: Japan, Australia field under -strength sides for vital qualifiers

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Australia and Japan, the two top-ranked teams in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), have both opted for under-strength sides as they bid to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2011 in next month’s penultimate qualifying round.

Three-times AFC Asian Cup winner Japan, who only need a draw in Yemen to qualify, have included 13 new faces for the 6 January match.

Australia, who play in Kuwait on the same day, have left out most of their UK-based players, including captain Lucas Neill of Everton, clubmate Tim Cahill and star veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.

Australia, 21st in the FIFA world rankings, lead Group B alongside Kuwait on seven points and will go through to the finals if they beat the Gulf state.

Japanese coach Takeshi Okada has rested most of his first-choice players and takes a 19-member squad with an average age of under 21 and less than three hours of international experience between them.

Okada was frank about his decision to take along a second-string team. “Our biggest goal is next year’s FIFA World Cup,” he told Japanese media. “If we don’t rest players before that it will be very difficult for them.” Japan are ranked 43rd in the world.

Okada said that the match against Yemen was a chance for some of his young players to make a name for themselves.

Australia’s coach Pim Verbeek has included teenage star Tommy Oar and veteran striker Archie Thompson in his squad for the Kuwait match.

Oar, who has had a strong season with his team, the Brisbane Roar, and Thompson, who has not donned the national shirt for almost a year, join a squad that includes 15 players from the local A-League. Thompson still holds the world record for scoring the most goals in a World Cup qualifier, 13 in Australia’s 31-0 demolition of American Samoa in 2001.

Eight overseas-based players join the A-League contingent headed up by FK Dinamo Moscow’s midfielder Luke Wilkshire and UK Championship side Crystal Palace’s midfielder Nicky Carle.

In Group E, the most open of the five qualifying groups, Iran will miss the services of leading players Javad Nekounam and Masoud Shojael for their vital game away to Singapore. They have not been released by their Spanish side Osasuna.

Iran currently top their table but cannot afford to slip up in the last two rounds with Singapore, Thailand and Jordan still in with a chance of qualification.

Iran will be using the four-nation friendly in Qatar to prepare for the Singapore match. Iran will play hosts Qatar, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) from 27 December to 2 January before flying to the Southeast Asian republic.

“The Qatar tournament is a good opportunity for us to get to know our team better, and a good opportunity as well for the players to show their potential,” Iranian coach Afshin Ghotbi said.

Match schedule:

06.01.10 - 16:15
YEMEN - JAPAN (A)
Ali Mohsen Al-Muraisi Stadium

06.01.10 - 18:00
BAHRAIN - HONG KONG (A)
National Stadium, Manama

06.01.10 - 17:30
KUWAIT - AUSTRALIA (B)
Kuwait S.C. Stadium

06.01.10 - 19:30
INDONESIA - OMAN(B)
Gelora Bung Karno Stadium

06.01.10 - 19:00
UAE - MALAYSIA(C)
Al-Shabab Stadium

06.01.10 - 17:00
LEBANON - VIETNAM (D)
Beirut Municipal Stadium

06.01.10 - 19:30
CHINA P.R. - SYRIA (D)
Zhejiang Yellow Dragon Sports Center

06.01.10 - 18:30
THAILAND - JORDAN (E)
Rajamangala Stadium

06.01.10 - 19:30
SINGAPORE - I.R.IRAN
Bishan Stadium

17.01.10 - 19:00
VIETNAM - CHINA P.R. (D)
MY Dinh Stadium

The final round of matches will be played on 03.03.10. The draw for the finals is 26 April.

See www.the-afc.com for qualifying group tables.