DOHA, Jan 11 — Four-time champions Japan are on the right track to make history and ease their disappointing run in the last five years in their 2023 Asian Cup campaign on the home ground of defending champions, Qatar, which will be the focus of Asian football fans starting tomorrow until February 10 here.

Japan’s head coach, Hajime Moriyasu, who saw his team lost 1-3 to Qatar in the final of the 2019 edition in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has casted the past aside and is determined to lead the Blue Samurai in their charge for the fifth title this time.

The 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Coach of the Year helped Japan to win the Asian Cup for the first time in 1992 as a player while guiding the team to win their last 10 games in a row en route to Doha.

Nine of them have seen Japan scored four goals and more including thrashing four-time World Cup champions Germany 4-1 in an international friendly last September, besides their recent 5-0 wins over Myanmar, Syria and Thailand respectively.

Japan also gave an early warning to their challengers including Iran, South Korea, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Qatar when they defeated Jordan 6-1 in a warm-up match held behind closed doors here, on Tuesday.

On the whole, Moriyasu’s squad, which is the best team in Asia and ranked 17th in the world, scored 45 goals and only conceded six goals in the last 10 matches, thus building a reputation as a team to be feared and among the favourites to win the championship.

Apart from that, Japan are also boosted by the presence of Japanese footballers playing in Europe, including Brighton & Hove Albion winger Kaoru Mitoma, Liverpool midfielder Wataru Endo, Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu and Real Sociedad winger Takefusa Kubo.

Japan, champions in 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2011 will start their 2023 Asian Cup campaign against South-east Asian giants Vietnam, coached by former Japan coach Philippe Troussier, before facing 2007 champions Iraq and Indonesia in Group D.

Meanwhile, hosts Qatar have the home advantage in their title defence mission, but received an early blow after former Real Madrid and Portugal manager Carlos Queiroz was sacked as coach last month following the Maroons’ inconsistent performance throughout 2023.

Having short period with the team, the new Spanish-born manager Marquez Lopez is expected to use all his experience in guiding Qatar Stars League club Al-Wakrah since 2018, in forming the strongest team to face a challenging campaign.

Qatar, who won their maiden title in 2019, will meet Lebanon in a Group A match which is also the opening action of the 2023 Asian Cup at Lusail Stadium, the venue for the 2022 World Cup final which saw Argentina defeated France.

The host team, ranked 58th in the world, was drawn into the same group with China and Tajikistan.

In the meantime, the impact of the influx of famous European players including Portuguese star striker Cristiano Ronaldo in the Saudi Pro League, had indirectly grabbed attention for football in Saudi Arabia and the world and they will be the focus of the Asian Cup this time.

This situation has given Saudi Arabian coach Roberto Mancini a headache his quest to deliver the first Asian Cup title since 1996 to the Green Falcons as most of his key players did not get enough playing time.

Three-time champions Saudi Arabia and the world’s 56th team will begin their Group F campaign against Oman on Jan 17 before meeting Kyrgyzstan and 2022 Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup champions Thailand.

Meanwhile, South Korean coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s desire to help the team end their 64-year wait to win the Asian Cup again cannot be underestimated as the Taegeuk Warriors are featuring their strongest team led by sensational Tottenham Hotspur striker Son Heung-min.

Son is among a line-up of South Korean players based in Europe alongside Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Hwang Hee-chan, Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lee Kang-in.

South Korea, who are ranked 23rd in the world, are the favourite team in the Group E but face the challenge of Jordan, Bahrain and Malaysia in the fight for a slot in the round of 16.

Iran, the three-time champions, and Australia, who won their only title in 2015, are also among the teams to watch out for as they are among the squads with experienced players capable of creating surprises.

Despite their enormous challenges, Palestine managed to place themselves among the 24 teams in the final round this time are expected to attract the attention of millions of fans. — Bernama