A month after the curtain was brought down on Asia's final qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the EAFF East Asian Cup takes centre stage with three qualified sides, namely Australia, Japan and hosts Korea Republic, out to challenge defending champions China PR. With the global football extravaganza kicking off in a year's time, the fifth edition of the regional event provides the three giants with a rare chance to take stock of their respective squads.
Japan enter the East Asian Cup seeking their first title and aiming to unearth fresh talent, with coach Alberto Zaccheroni naming a 23-man squad exclusively featuring home-based players. Fifteen of the new-look squad are uncapped, with in-form Sagan Tosu forward Toyoda Yohei and Cerezo Osaka striker Kakitani Yoichiro the most notable.
Wearing the captain's armband is seasoned Jubilo Iwata defender Komano Yuichi, who bosses the backline alongside with Suzuki Daisuke, who figured for Japan at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament London 2012. His former Olympic team-mates Hotaru Yamaguchi and Takahiro Ogihara, both of whom hail from Cerezo Osaka, shoulder the creative burden. Despite playing without their Europe-based stars, Zaccheroni is hoping the J.League talents prove themselves on the international stage.
“With this campaign we kick-start our preparation for next year's World Cup," said the 60-year-old. "This is a good opportunity for the players I have selected to show that the things they do in the local league can also work at international level. I am very interested to see what they can do for us."
New faces for Socceroos, South Koreans
It will be Australia's first regional campaign since joining the AFC in 2005, but Holger Osieck's team were made to sweat in qualifying last December, narrowly edging Korea DPR on goal difference to seal their place. The German coach has announced a squad largely consisting of A-League players, seven of whom are new faces.
A series of experienced players are, though, expected to provide leadership as the debutants are aiming to impress. The most eye-catching is Japan-based Josh Kennedy, who headed home the only goal against Iraq which sealed the Socceroos’ spot at Brazil 2014, while China-based Matt McKay and Melbourne Victory's Mark Milligan provide experience and drive. Meanwhile, 34-year-old striker Archie Thompson, with 28 international goals, is one goal shy of Damian Mori's Socceroo scoring record.
Hosts Korea Republic must also make do without their Europe-based stars in Hong Myungbo's first competition in charge. The country’s most-capped player, who represented the Taeguk Warriors in four FIFA World Cups, took the reins after Choi Kanghee stepped down following their uninspiring preliminary campaign for Brazil 2014.
As many as seven new players have been called up, including Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma forward Kim Dongsub, who has been on target five times in the K-League this season. Six Japan-based players and Guangzhou Evergrande defender Kim Younggwon are also included.
Long-standing goalkeeper Jung Sungryong and towering forward Kim Shinwook are two of the five players who started against Iran in the aforementioned qualifier, while FC Seoul midfielder Ha Daesung is appointed the new skipper of this largely unfamiliar side. Having won the inaugural tournament at Japan 2003, Korea Republic will be expectant of a third title as hosts.
Also entering this campaign under a new coach are China PR, with care-taker Fu Bo replacing recently-ousted Jose Antonio Camacho. Since taking over in August 2011, the Spaniard saw 11 of his 20 matches in charge end in losses, results which put him under fire. A disastrous 5-1 home defeat to Thailand last month proved the final straw, with CFA sparing no time in dispensing with the former Spain and Real Madrid boss.
Having crashed out of Asian Zone qualifying for Brazil 2014, the EAFF Championship provides China with a chance to redeem themselves on the regional scene. They won the previous edition with victories over Hong Kong and Korea Republic and a goalless draw with Japan.
"I am wanting to win all three matches," stated Fu, the assistant to Gao Hongbo during their title-winning campaign three years ago. "Despite the managerial switch, our goal remains to do whatever we can to do the country proud. All the opponents are strong, but we are capable of achieving victories as long as we maintain our unity."