x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

2014 World Cup coaches eyeing Asian Champions League

Out east, a number of Australians, Japanese and Koreans will be looking to make their case for a place in Brazil while in the west a few Iranians will be under the microscope.

The second round of the Asian Champions League takes on extra emphasis for some World Cup hopefuls this week, with South Korea’s Hong Myung-bo among the national team coaches carefully watching the continental club competition before announcing his squad for Brazil 2014.

Hong plans to finalise his 23-man World Cup squad later this week, after attending the all-Korean match between Jeonbuk Motors and Pohang Steelers.

With Lee Myung-joo of Pohang and Lee Seung-gi of Jeonbuk hoping to make the list, there is plenty to play for, not least a place in the quarter-finals of Asian Champions League.

Players from clubs in Japan, Iran and Australia are in similar situations in the opening matches of the two-legged ties on Tuesday and Wednesday.

But few will be under as much scrutiny as young Pohang striker Kim Seung-dae. The 23 year-old Kim is the top scorer in the K-League and has also found the target four times in the Asian Champions League, helping the three-time continental title winners become the first team to qualify from the East Asian section of the draw.

Kim could be a late addition to South Korea’s World Cup squad.

“The national team seems so far away,” Kim told domestic media. “At the moment I am focusing on my role at my club, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t dream about playing for my country or going to play overseas.”

Pohang and Jeonbuk may both be recent winners of the competition, but the biggest clash of the round takes place between defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande and Diego Forlan’s Cerezo Osaka.

Yoichiro Kakitani is one of Japan’s brightest young stars but just one goal in eleven appearances in the 2014 J-League season could be putting his World Cup chances in jeopardy. With national team coach Alberto Zaccheroni due to name his squad early next week, Tuesday’s game is a timely opportunity for the highly-rated attacker.

Forlan, preparing for the World Cup with Uruguay, insists that Kakitani is on track due to his four goals in the continental championship.

“There’s no need to worry,” Forlan told Nikkansports. “He has scored in the Asian Champions League and is getting his chances and is helping the team.”

Guangzhou coach Marcello Lippi knows all about the World Cup after leading Italy to the title in 2006, but he is focused on the stuttering continental form of his Chinese powerhouse club. The defending champions booked a second-round spot only on the last match day in the group stage following successive defeats.

Italian international Alessandro Diamanti showed some impressive form in the early stages of the competition and will be keen to keep sharp ahead of Brazil after being ignored by Italy coach Cesare Prandelli for an April friendly against Spain.

Lippi believes that the move to China will not harm Diamanti’s international chances.

“He’s been an Italy international for the last three years and this time he was not picked because now he is based in Asia and it was not worth it to make such a journey just for a friendly,” Lippi said. “I don’t know what Prandelli is thinking but, for me, Diamanti is definitely going to Brazil.”

Elsewhere, Tsukasa Shiotani is hoping to squeeze into Japan’s final 23 and the graceful defender will be helped by a good showing for J-League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima against Western Sydney Wanderers. The Wanderers are making their debut in the competition and the likes of Matthew Spiranovic, who scored in Sunday’s A-League grand final loss to Brisbane Roar, will be hoping to cement his claim for a spot in Australia’s World Cup squad.

In the remaining second-round clash in the east – the competition is split into two geographical areas until the final – FC Seoul take on Kawasaki Frontale. Forward Yun Il-rok has his sights set on a place in the Korean squad, while Kengo Nakamura is in good form for the Japanese club and is a contender for Japan’s World Cup squad.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz will be watching the second round match between the country’s sole surviving representative, Foolad, and 2011 champions Al Sadd of Qatar.

Bakhtiar Rahmani and Mehrdad Jama’ati have a chance to help Foolad reach the quarter-finals and keep themselves in the frame for Queiroz’ selection.

Elsewhere in the west, there is an all-Saudi clash between Al Ittihad and Al Shabab, while Al Hilal meet Uzbek club Bunyodkor and the UAE’s two hopefuls go head-to-head with Al Ain, a team that boast Ghana captain and the tournament’s leading scorer Asamoah Gyan, against Al Jazira.

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