AFC Asian Cup 2019: Napoli stars Mertens, Koulibaly and Younes wish Lebanon luck

Lebanon are set to return to the Asian Cup after a 19-year hiatus and they have received an added boost ahead of their opening game against Qatar in the form of a message from Napoli stars Dries Mertens, Kalidou Koulibaly and Amin Younes.

The Napoli trio have sent across their best wishes to the Lebanese players and expressed their desire to see them succeed.

Amin Younes, who joined the Italian side from Ajax this season, is of Lebanese descent and he often heads down to Lebanon to visit his family.

As for the Cedars, they will be looking to get their campaign off to a bright start when they face Qatar on Wednesday.

AFC Asian Cup 2019: Focus is only on Vietnam right now – Iraq coach Srecko Katanec

Iraq, who kick off their AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign under new head coach Srecko Katanec later today, seem to have tempered their expectations in the lead-up to the tournament; a sentiment echoed by their Slovenian manager who refused to set targets for his side.

Katanec instead stressed on the importance of taking each game one at a time and building from there.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of Iraq’s opening Asian Cup game against Vietnam, Katanec said, “The first match is always very important and that is what our focus is on now. If you ask me for a target, I will tell you that it is to win every game and if we do that, you know what it means at the end.”

The 55-year-old took charge of the Lions of Mesopotamia just over three months ago, but feels his side’s preparations have been up to the mark given the circumstances. “We are prepared. Our (training) camp was good and the players are where I want them to be.”

He also refused to be drawn in to a discussion about his starting lineup, saying he trusts each of his players to get the job done when the time comes. “I know the lineup, I’m fully convinced by my team, but as I said, we prepared very well but you never know as every game is a different story.

“We have qualities and if our players give everything, we will play a good game. About the result, you never but I am very confident with the team.”

Iraq finished a commendable fourth last time out, and will be setting their sights on a similar run in 2019 as well.

Malaysia coach Tan Cheng Hoe signs 2-year contract extension

Malaysia

Malaysia head coach Tan Cheng Hoe has signed a new deal which will keep him at the helm of the national side until 2020.

Tan took charge of the Malaysian team in 2017, replacing Nelo Vingada, and has sparked a remarkable upturn in fortunes.

The 50-year-old guided Malaysia to the recently-concluded AFF Suzuki Cup final, where they lost 3-2 on aggregate to Vietnam across two hard-fought games.

His contract ran out following the conclusion of the Suzuki Cup and the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) took quite some time before finally offering him a new two-year deal.

Tan was also reportedly approached by Perlis who wanted to make him their technical director, but has not committed his future to the national team.

Under his stewardship, Malaysia have developed into a team that is pleasing on the eye, passing the ball around and maintaining possession. He has also made the side extremely gritty and hard to beat whilst also fostering great spirit within members of the team.

AFC Asian Cup 2019: India coach Stephen Constantine slams ‘nonsensical’ media for questioning his tactics

India national team coach Stephen Constantine has slammed his critics – and the media in particular – stating that second-guessing his every decision is ‘wrong’ and ‘complete nonsense.’

Constantine has been under the scanner for a while now, with fans and the media criticising many of his team selections and tactics.

Amid rumours of rifts between the coach and the players, Constantine’s job was rumoured to be on the line, ultimately dependant on India’s performance in the Asian Cup.

However, the English coach silenced all his naysayers with a tactical masterclass in India’s opening Asian Cup 2019 game against Thailand.

The Blue Tigers romped to a 4-1 win and Constantine, while speaking to ESPN in the aftermath of the victory, said,  “You guys have your own opinions, and I don’t have a problem with that. But when you start criticising players that I have put in, or second-guessing my opinion, you know, it’s just wrong.”

“Some of the crap that you have been saying about me, the team, about some of the players. It’s just nonsense. You’ve just got to let somebody get on with the work.”

He did, however, reserve praise for the Indian fans who were quite vocal in their support of the team.

While the media has been critical of Constantine in the past, a lot of it could be attributed to his own doing, with the manager often avoiding and even discouraging his players from giving interviews.

Whether his words have any effect on his detractors remains to be seen.

AFC Asian Cup 2019: Injured Salman Al-Faraj, Abdullah Al-Khaibari dropped from Saudi Arabia squad

Saudi Arabia’s preparations for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 took a major hit, with midfielder Abdullah Al-Khaibari ruled out of the tournament after failing to recover from a thigh injury.

Sultan Al Ghannam has been called up as his replacement and will join the squad ahead of their game against DPR Korea.

Meanwhile, Salman Al Faraj too has failed to recover in time for Saudi’s opening game, with midfielder Nooh Al-Mousa earning a call-up to the side in his place.

Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi confirmed the news, saying, “We took as much as time as we could to declare the final playing list and we tried in every way to keep Salman with us. We understand and appreciate the effort made by Salman in trying to be with us, but unfortunately he didn’t pass the final test in the final training session and that’s why he had to call another player to the tournament.

Pizzi’s men begin their campaign against DPR Korea before squaring off against Qatar and Lebanon.

AFC Asian Cup 2019 Predicted XI: Saudi Arabia vs DPR Korea

Saudi Arabia will look to get their AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign off to a bright start when they take on minnows DPR Korea in their opening game.

Saudi are strong favourites to top their group and even make a decent run in the knockouts, but they have been dealt a major injury blow ahead of their opening fixture, with Salman Al Faraj ruled out of the competition and replaced by Nouh Al Mousa.

They still possess a formidable squad though with the likes of Yahya Al-Shehri and Fahad Al-Muwallad looking to make their mark.

For DPR Korea, on the other hand, the burden will be on the shoulders of veteran Jong Il-gwan and youngster Han Kwang-song to provide much of the creativity.

It looks a tall order, but this tournament has already seen its fair share of upsets – just ask Australia – and DPR Korea might just fancy their chances of sneaking away with a point.

Here’s how both teams could line up for this crucial encounter:

Saudi Arabia (4-3-3)

Goalkeeper: Waleed Abdullah

Defenders: Ali Al-Bulaihi, Yaseer Al-Shahrani, Mohammed Al-Breik, Mohammed Al-Fatil

Midfielders: Abdullah Otayf, Housain Al-Mogahwi, Hattan Bahebri

Forwards: Salem Al-Dawsari, Fahad Al-Muwallad, Yahya Al-Shehri

DPR Korea (4-1-2-1-2)

Goalkeeper: Ri Myong-guk

Defenders: Kang Kuk-chol, Jang Kuk-chol, Kim Chol-bom, Sim Hyon-jin

Midfielders: Ri Yong-jik, Kim Yong-il, Ri Un-chol

Forwards: Han Kwang-song, Jong Il-gwan, Pak Kwang-ryong

AFC Asian Cup 2019 Predicted XI: Iraq vs Vietnam

On the back of a fourth-place finish in 2015, Iraq will look to go one better this time around when they begin their AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign against Suzuki Cup champions Vietnam.

This is arguably the most evenly-matched contest set to take place in this group, with only 12 places separating the two teams in terms of FIFA Rankings.

Both teams have a number of young stars in their ranks, with the likes of Nguyen Quang Hai, Mohanad Ali holding the key for their sides.

The Golden Dragons made a few surprising changes to their squad that won the Suzuki Cup in December, opting to omit Nguyen Anh Duc, while defender Tran Dinh Trong was also ruled out of the competition earlier.

However, they still remain a side capable of making it through to the knockout rounds.

For Iraq, on the other hand, the onus will be on the likes of Hussein Ali and Mohanad to spark their run.

Here’s a look at how both sides could line up for this crucial fixture:

Iraq (4-2-3-1)

Goalkeeper: Jalal Hassan

Defenders: Frans Dhia Putro, Ahmad Ibrahim, Ali Faez, Ali Adnan

Midfielders: Safaa Hadi, Osama Rashid, Ahmed Yasin, Bashar Resan, Hussein Ali

Forwards: Mohanad Ali

Vietnam (3-4-3)

 

Goalkeeper: Dang Van Lam

Defenders: Que Ngoc Hai, Bui Tien Dung, Do Duy Manh

Midfielders: Nguyen Huy Hung, Doan Van Hau, Nguyen Trong Hoang, Do Hung Dung

Forwards: Nguyen Quang Hai, Nguyen Cong Phuong, Phan Van Duc

Tampines Rovers retain star winger Ryutaro Megumi; offer Serbian duo trials

Diminutive Japanese winger Ryutaro Megumi has extended his stay at Tampines Rovers for another season, as confirmed by the club earlier this week.

Megumi joined Tampines in 2017 and starred in his very first season, scoring on his debut for the club and ending the season with seven strikes in 23 games, propelling Tampines to a second-place finish.

His performances earned him an extension and he continued from where he had left off the previous year. However, he could not prevent Tampines from dropping to fourth spot.

Despite that though, the Stags have extended his contract and he will feature for the Singaporean side for another year.

Tampines have been quite busy in the offseason, roping in a number of new players and keeping an eye out for potential talent as they look to become a force to be reckoned with once again.

Most recently, they offered trials to Serbian duo Mirza Delimedjac and Zehrudin Mehmedović. While Mirza models his game after World Cup winner N’Golo Kante and is a bundle of energy in the holding midfield position, Zehrudin, who was part of Serbia’s U-17 side, is a creative midfielder with quick feet and great vision.

Reports: Singapore striker Ikhsan Fandi in Norway for trial

Singapore starlet Ikhsan Fandi is all set to fulfill his dreams, flying out to Norway for a trial with Raufoss IL, according to The Straits Times. 

Ikhsan recently stated that his goal for 2019 would be to secure a contract at a European side, and that dream could indeed come to fruition if he impresses during his trial with the Norwegian side.

Ikhsan’s rise has been quite startling over the past year, and at just 19, he has already cemented his place in the Singapore national team, even scoring a memorable overhead kick in their disappointing 2018 Suzuki Cup campaign.

His potential move to Norway comes hot on the heels of his brother Irfan Fandi’s transfer to Bangkok Glass for the 2019 season.

As for Raufoss, they are currently plying their trade in the second tier of Norwegian football, having earned promotion from the third division only last season.

Muangthong United star joins Gamba Osaka

J1 League side Gamba Osaka have completed the signing of defender Naoki Aoyama from Muangthong United.

Naoki departs Muangthong after three immensely successful seasons, making well over 100 appearances for the club and even winning the Thai League 1 in 2016.

The Japanese joined the Thai giants from Ventforet Kofu, but is now set to return to his homeland to turn out for Gamba Osaka.

 

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The 32-year-old, despite being considered a legend of sorts in club football, has failed to make a single appearance for his national team, although he did feature for Japan’s U23 side.

The veteran will look to shore up Gamba Osaka’s leaky defence, which conceded as many as 46 goals last season, the third highest among teams in the top half.

Naoki follows in the footsteps of Thai star Chanathip Songkrasin, who also made the move from Thailand to Japan in 2017, turning out for Consadole Sapporo.

AFC Asian Cup 2019: Want to play better football and make the fans happy, says new Thailand manager Sirisak

Thailand manager Milovan Rajevac was sacked earlier today after his side’s calamitous 4-1 defeat to India in their AFC Asian Cup 2019 opener. Rajevac has been replaced by his assistant Sirisak Yodyardthai who will lead the national team for the remainder of the campaign.

Sirisak has now expressed his regret at the extreme step to sack Rajevac while conceding that it was a decision that had to be taken.

“I believe that no one wants this kind of thing to happen. But with the current situation and the problems we are facing, I can understand why the association had to make this decision.”

He also added that while the task of stepping into Rajevac’s shoes is not an easy one, he intends to do everything in his power to make Thailand competitive again.

“I acknowledge that taking up this duty is difficult but I still believe the potential of Thai players is not inferior to anyone, so if we cooperate and support each other, I believe that we will put on better performances.”

Sirisak also opened up about what exactly went wrong with the former coach’s reign and expressed his desire to succeed alongside new assistant Choketawee Promrut.

“I hope that both I and coach Choketawee will improve the situation and the atmosphere of the team in the next two matches.”

Sirisak went on to add that they will need to put up a better fight against UAE and Bahrain and pick up as many points as they can, whilst also playing a brand of football fans enjoy.

“We have to be more concise. We have two important matches coming up against Bahrain and UAE. We have to find ways to showcase more variety and gain some points. Lastly, I hope that we can make the fans happy with the football we play.”

AFC Asian Cup 2019: Need to learn from India defeat and unite as one, says Teerasil Dangda

Thailand skipper Teerasil Dangda has opened up about the War Elephants’ humbling 4-1 defeat to India in their opening AFC Asian Cup 2019 fixture, urging his side to put the disappointment behind them and focus on the task at hand.

Teerasil also alluded to the fact that the Blue Tigers’ goal early in the second half knocked the stuffing out of Thailand and changed the course of the game.

“The first half we played well, but the second half we conceded the goal early which changed everything. Our confidence, courage, everything reduced and we found it difficult. It’s a shame. But it’s football, not only must you play well, but you must also play consistently for 90 minutes.”

The skipper scored Thailand’s equaliser in the first half, but conceded that personal milestones mean nothing to him if the side does not end up winning the game.

“Personally, it feels okay to score a goal. But it has almost no meaning when the results come out like this. But we must not be desperate, two matches are still remaining.”

“We have to work harder than ever. Let this defeat be a lesson from which we can learn. I want everyone to get up, forget about the disappointment, look forward and go forward together. Importantly, we have to unite as one and have to fight.”

Teerasil also thanked all the fans who travelled to the Al Nahyan stadium to support the side, apologizing for the final outcome.

“I want to thank all the fans, both traveling to cheer and those that stay in Thailand. I want to say that all of us are sorry too and really want to apologize. I’ll try to do better in the second game, I hope all the fans will continue to cheer us.”

Thailand will square off against UAE and Bahrain in their next two matches and must win both if they are to stand a realistic chance of qualifying.

AFC Asian Cup 2019 Predicted XI: Iran vs Yemen

Three-time Asian Cup champions Iran begin their 2019 campaign against debutants Yemen in what looks like a rather straightforward assignment on paper.

Iran though will be without the services of Saeid Ezatolahi who was ruled out of the competition earlier. Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s status too remains a mystery and he is unlikely to feature.

However, with a number of veterans in the side, including the likes of Sardar Azmoun, who recently returned from retirement, as well as Masoud Shojaei, they should have more than enough to get past Yemen.

Yemen though will pose a threat, with Abdulwasea Al-Matari and Ahmed Al-Sarori both more than capable of causing the best of defences problems.

Here, we take a look at how both sides could line up for the crucial encounter:

Iran (4-1-4-1)

Goalkeeper: Alireza Beiranvand

Defenders: Ehsan Hajsafi, Morteza Pouraliganji, Majid Hosseini, Ramin Rezaeian

Midfielders: Masoud Shojaei, Omid Ebrahimi, Vahid Amiri, Mehdi Taremi, Karim Ansarifard

Forwards: Sardar Azmoun

Yemen (4-2-3-1)

Goalkeeper: Mohammed Ayash

Defenders: Abdulaziz Al-Gumaei, Mohammed Fuad Omar, Mohammed Boqshan, Mudir Abdurabu

Midfielders: Wahid Al-Khyat, Hussein Ahmed Al-Ghazi, Ala Al-Sasi, Abdulwasea Al-Matari, Mohammed Ba Rowis

Forwards: Ahmed Al-Sarori

 

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AFC Asian Cup 2019: Underestimating Philippines would be a huge mistake, feels Korea Republic coach Paulo Bento

Korea Republic enter the AFC Asian Cup 2019 as one of the favourites after a rather successful World Cup campaign, but despite being drawn against newbies Philippines and Kyrgyz Republic, as well as struggling China, manager Paulo Bento is refusing to look ahead to the knockout rounds.

“We are going to respect all the teams that we are going to play, and today we will have this behaviour since the beginning of the game, and we had this behaviour since the beginning of our preparations, which is the most important,” Bento said to AFC.com.

“A big mistake would be that if we think the game is going to be easy. That is the worst mistake we can make. I believe we are not going to make that (mistake). I believe in my players in the way that they are going to play.

“Our focus in this moment, is the game that we are going to play tomorrow. After that, we will think about the second, and after that, the third.”

Korea kickstart their campaign against debutants Philippines, who are coming off the back of a rather successful Suzuki Cup, but will be without the services of star keeper Neil Etheridge.

Bento, who will be hoping to get off to the perfect start, has prepared his charges well and knows exactly what the Azkals have in store for them.

“We can conclude that Philippines is a team that uses two tactical systems. We will try to prepare our team for both situations, but at the same time, they are a team that uses counter-attacks in a good way with fast players.

“It will be a difficult game, but we will try to dominate the game from the beginning, and I think we have a good chance to win the game, although there will be lots of difficulties.”