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AFC Asian Cup

Bahrain boss Pizzi optimistic ahead of Japan clash in AFC Asian Cup RO16

Published at :January 26, 2024 at 7:05 PM
Modified at :January 26, 2024 at 7:05 PM
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(Courtesy : AFC Media)

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Bahrain will take on Japan in the AFC Asian Cup on 31 January.

Bahrain head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi is relishing the prospect of a personal rematch with four-time champions Japan in the last 16 of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 after leading his side through to the knockout rounds with a 1-0 win over Jordan on Thursday.

Abdulla Yusuf scored the only goal of the game at Khalifa International Stadium to take the Bahrainis into the Round of 16 as Group E winners and that means Pizzi will lock horns once again with Japan boss Hajime Moriyasu.

The pair met at the 2019 edition of the continental championship when Moriyasu led his Japan team to a 1-0 victory over Pizzi’s Saudi Arabia and the Argentinian knows his current side face a significant challenge to move into the quarter-finals.

“The game was very positive and we deserved a better result,” Pizzi said of the last 16 meeting in Sharjah in 2019. “The Japanese level is very high.

“They have high individual skills and potential but we have high confidence in our players, their focus and their effort and hopefully we will be able to qualify.”

“For us all the games are difficult. The group stage was very difficult for us but we were able to compete, win and qualify.

“Of course the Japan team is excellent and has experienced players who play in European leagues but we’re optimistic about our group. We have high morale in our team, we have solidarity amongst us. We have great respect for all the teams.”

The Bahrainis advanced with their second win of the group stage after earlier claiming a narrow win over Malaysia and Pizzi was delighted with the outcome in front of a 36,950 crowd.

“We are very happy to have won and we’re very happy with the performance of our team,” he said. “We implemented our plans, we wanted to win and we’ve got the three points. Now we have to recover and think about the next game.”

Jordan also advanced to the next phase with the result leaving Lhoussanine Ammouta’s team in third place in the standings with their points total enough to take one of the consolation berths in the last 16, where they will face Iraq.

Ammouta defended his decision to make five changes to his starting line-up from the team that drew 2-2 with Korea Republic as he kept one eye fixed on the knockout rounds.

“What’s most important is to qualify and to put in your best in the knockout stages,” said the Moroccan. “It’s most important to play all your cards in the knockout stages. You will have a fuller formation with the main players and the substitutes.

“In such competitions you can’t rely on one player for the whole tournament. It’s everyone’s right, even those on the bench, to partake in the cup. You are supposed to make changes. Our main aim was to avoid yellow cards.

“I would’ve wanted us to win the three games regardless of who we are going to play in the next stage. The defeat happened. The players are not accepting of a defeat, but this is football.”

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