Shaken Saudis look to salvage reputation
© AFP

Saudi Arabia are looking to salvage their reputation when they face fellow three-time champions Japan in their final group match tomorrow after their humiliating exit from the tournament.

"We will exert every effort to perform well," Saudi Arabia coach Nasser Al Johar said on the eve of the Group B match. "We will also try to think about our destiny, our name and our reputation. Our players hope they will use all their potential to do that and restore our reputation again."

Saudi Arabia were stunned by unfancied Syria 2-1 and then bowed 1-0 to Jordan to assure themselves of bottom spot in the group table. After the first defeat, their Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro was fired. It is only the second time in AFC Asian Cup history that Saudi Arabia have not made it to the knockout stages.

Even though we have been eliminated, this is a destiny by God. We'll prepare ourselves for the coming days.
Mohammed Massad, Saudi Arabia defender

"We are able to restore our reputation in the tournament. We'll have to win," Saudi defender Mohammed Massad said. "Even though we have been eliminated, this is a destiny by God. We'll prepare ourselves for the coming days."

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni, a former AC Milan coach, warned against Saudi Arabia's potential. "While Syria and Jordan fight by forming blocks, Saudi Arabia have techniques," he said. "I expect them to fight with a creative and imaginative flair. We cannot afford to loosen up and we must fight courageously."

It was Saudi Arabia who crushed Japan's hope of lifting a third straight title in 2007 by beating them in the semi-finals. With four points from a draw with Jordan and a 2-1 win over Syria, the Blue Samurai can qualify for the quarter-finals if they draw or beat the Saudis. Japan can still go through depending on the margin of a loss to Saudi Arabia.

Japan captain and Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe said: "We haven't got anything yet. We will be outdone if we let our guard down. We can win if we continue to fight as we did against Syria when players on the pitch and players on the bench played with one mind."

I expect them to fight with a creative and imaginative flair. We cannot afford to loosen up and we must fight courageously.
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni on Saudi Arabia

Zaccheroni played down the absence of FIFA World Cup™ goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima due to a red card controversially imposed on him in the Syria match when he brought down a Syrian player flagged offside. The referee overturned the offside call.

Tomsk midfielder Daisuke Matsui is also expected to miss the Saudi match due to a fresh leg injury and CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda is nursing his right ankle which was hurt in the Syria match.

"I have confidence in reserve players as I have studied their potential," he said. "Basically I don't like to change the system under development. I have a full day to think so that I won't make any mistake in my choice."