For Jo Bonfrere, winning gold with Nigeria at the 1996 Olympics may represent the ultimate achievement of his coaching career to date. However, the 61-year-old Dutchman is better remembered in Asia as the coach of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Korea Republic.
In the 2004 Asian Cup finals, Bonfrere guided Korea Republic to the quarter-finals of the competition, only to suffer a narrow 4-3 defeat to Iran in an epic encounter. Knowing the pedigree of the teams involved and the importance of the tournament, the current coach of Dalian Shide was happy to sit down with FIFA.com to discuss the chances of the 16 participants.
FIFA.com: First of all, what are your memories of the 2004
Asian Cup - and how well do you think Korea Republic will do this
Jo Bonfrere: Despite losing in the quarter-finals, we didn't do too badly at the 2004 Asian Cup. We enjoyed big wins over Kuwait and UAE to reach the second round and the match with Iran ebbed and flowed until we were defeated by a single goal. In many ways, the tournament provided a real lift for the players, as they proved that they could create and take their chances.
Obviously, I don't know the current Korea Republic team as well as the one I coached but from what I have seen, I think they will have to do better in front of goal if they are to win the competition.
Korea Republic won the first two Asian Cups in 1956 and
1960 and they have the most appearances at the FIFA World Cup™
finals for an Asian team. With that in mind, do you think they have
the pedigree to win the tournament for the first time in 47
In my opinion, any of the participants could win the tournament, including Korea Republic. The results of matches in Asia are becoming so hard to predict because the gap between the traditional powers and the so-called underdogs is narrowing all the time.
They have been drawn against Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and
co-hosts Indonesia. How difficult will it be for them to reach the
Well, there will be no easy games in the group - and that is true for every team, but Korea Republic will find it tough with two Western Asian teams involved. You usually find that teams like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have better individuals. They are good going forward and create a lot of chances. However, I expect Korea Republic to be better organised, so the games will be closely fought.
Japan could win their third consecutive title, how do you
rate their chances?
Japan will be boosted by the inclusion of several of their European-based stars, who failed to make the previous edition. However, it is still to early to predict who will win the tournament.
They have been place in a group which contains Vietnam,
Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Will they feel confident about
progressing to the quarter-finals?
I think that Japan are likely to win this group, with Qatar and UAE most likely battling it out for second place. However, I think Japan will find it difficult against these two teams, in fact, I rate them as highly as Saudi Arabia.
Three-time champions Iran have been placed in a group with
Uzbekistan and China. What do you think of their chances?
Iran are not as strong as they were three years ago. They are a team in transition, with many of their better players getting older and their younger players yet to prove themselves. They may find it tough.
Obviously, Ali Daei has recently retired from international
football. Who do you think will replace him as the team's
Players like Ali Daei are special. He reached a level which few footballers achiever Being a team leader like him requires individual ability, vision and leadership qualities on and off the field. Ali Karimi and Mehdi Mahdavikia are both brilliant players but they can hardly fill the void left by Daei.
Do you blame a lack of consistency for the underachievement
of the Chinese national team?
Inconsistency occurs in every team, but I blame the amount of matches that some teams are asked to play. I believe that Chinese players are going through a very difficult time at present with the amount of matches they are involved in. Players should be given more time for mental and physical rest between games.
Despite facing challenges from Thailand, Iraq and Oman, few
question Australia's chances of reaching the knockout phase.
How well do you think they will do?
With their English-based players, Australia are without a question one of the strongest teams. Their strengths are their mentality as they showed the whole world during last year's World Cup - they never say die.
Who will be the most dangerous potential giantkillers?
Bahrain and Oman can produce magic moments when they play well. Besides these two teams, the four co-hosts, namely Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, will also be able to raise a few eyebrows, given their strong home support.
Is there any one of the four co-hosts you fancy in
As history shows, Indonesia are a team that get a good result against a strong team. Because of this, who knows, they may even surprise even their own supporters.
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