Bahrain undaunted by ‘life or death’ challenge of Japan

January 30 – Asian Cup hopefuls Bahrain will confront tournament favourites Japan on Wednesday afternoon at the Thumama Stadium in a round of 16 fixture that could completely change the complexion of the tournament.

Speaking ahead of his clash with four-time Asian Cup champions Japan on Wednesday afternoon, Bahrain manager Juan Antonio Pizzi said: “We are very optimistic. It will be a very tough match but we are well prepared, we need to be focused.”

“I have full confidence in my players. We will play every match as if it were the final.”

Despite being tournament favourites, Japan stumbled through the group stage, finishing second, losing to now-homebound Iraq and conceding five goals over the course of three games. The Japanese clearly have quality, but Pizzi made it clear that he will look to expose their weaknesses.

“Japan have weaknesses and we need to exploit them to come out on top. Hopefully we will be able to implement our game plan and come away with a win,” said Pizzi.

“Before going into any match I always study the opposition. We will prepare our tactics to play to our strengths and mitigate theirs. We always look to control the game and control possession, even if that means changing strategies during the game.”

Unexpectedly topping Group despite a 3-1 loss to South Korea in the opening game, Bahrain executed a flawless defensive record to see out the group stages and leapfrog Korea to earn top spot.

“When you compete against big teams, we always look to cause an upset. It improves us, across the players and the staff,” Pizzi explained.

“The level against South Korea was very high, but it assured us that we can compete against anybody in this tournament.”

Familiar with what it takes to cause a major upset on the continental stage, Pizzi guided Chile to the Copa America title in 2016 by beating an immaculate Argentina side featuring a 29-year-old Lionel Messi in the peak of his powers.

“Of course my experience with Chile is very important but no two matches are the same. We will do the same as we did then: focus on their weaknesses and win the match,” said Pizzi.

“Pressure is a very important factor right now and it could actually play into our hands.”

Then managing Saudi Arabia, Pizzi was sent home by Japan in the 2019 Asian Cup thanks to an early goal from Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, who will also likely start in Wednesday’s fixture. Now equipped with Bahrain’s group-toppers, he looks to get revenge from the team that lost him his job five years ago.

“This is football, sometimes it gives us the chance to patch our wounds. Life goes on and we must be willing to except anything the life throws at us,” Pizzi said.

“Psychology is important for the players, especially after matches where we’ve won. Victory is excellent motivation and hopefully we can use this to come out on top tomorrow.”

Looking to finally claw out of the round of 16 phase of the competition for the first time since 2004, Bahrain captain Waleed Alhayam addressed the challenge ahead.

“We have lots of respect for Japan, they are a fantastic team. We will require patience to secure the result we need.” he said.

“We’re going to fight to win, regardless of who the opponent is. For us there is no such thing as a big opponent, what you give is what you get.

“We do not fear Japan, we respect them.”

Jordan’s last-gasp victory over high-flying Iraq on Monday afternoon proved anything can happen in this tournament, but the player insisted on focussing on his own game.

“We do not care about what happened between Jordan and Iraq. We will do what we must to defeat Japan. We will go into the match fully focussed on our own game.

“For us, it feels like life or death.”

Contact the writer of this story, Harry Ewing, at moc.l1709054759labto1709054759ofdlr1709054759owedi1709054759sni@g1709054759niwe.1709054759yrrah1709054759


Hong Kong002070
Saudi Arabia210417
Krygz Rep012151

Latest Tweets