Japan's Yoshida blasts Asian Cup 'stupidity' before final
Abu Dhabi (AFP)
Japan captain Maya Yoshida has warned that problems on and off the pitch are embarrassing the Asian Cup as the Blue Samurai prepare to face Qatar in Friday's final.
The Southampton defender called on tournament organisers to deal swiftly with incidents of "stupidity" that, according to Yoshida, risk damaging the reputation of Asian football.
His plea came as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) confirmed to AFP that it had received a protest over the eligibility of two Qatari players from host country the United Arab Emirates and were investigating.
"I think the AFC should control stuff about penalties and suspensions," Yoshida said Thursday, noting also that Japan's tempestuous 3-0 semi-final victory over Iran had ended with rival players almost coming to blows.
"But I would mention that if (the tournament) is broadcast all over the world, you don't want to see any stupid things, especially after the game," he added.
"We are representing Asia under the hashtag #bringingasiatogether -- so it's important to represent Asia by playing good football and with fair play."
The tournament slogan has rung hollow in the Emirates, where finalists Qatar have been frequently abused by hostile local fans over the Gulf blockade of the tiny, energy-rich state.
The Qatari players were pelted with plastic bottles and shoes after thrashing the hosts 4-0 in the semi-finals in disgraceful scenes that brought shame on the Asian Cup and prompted another AFC investigation.
Japan's upset of title favourites Iran also came close to boiling over, with Yoshida himself needing to be restrained by team mates after reacting furiously to a petulant slap from Sardar Azmoun.
- Controversial decisions -
"We met some of the Iran guys in the lift and they apologised for what happened," said Yoshida, looking forward to Friday's final in Abu Dhabi.
"I expect both teams to give 100% effort tomorrow, with fair play, to show the world how we play. That would be a big step, not only for Japan but Asian football."
The Asian Cup has seen its share of controversial refereeing decisions, with hosts UAE twice awarded soft late penalties that left rivals players and coaching fuming.
"It's important to control ourselves mentally in Asia," said Yoshida.
"The referees are totally different in style to European or even Japanese referees. I think we've done well in terms of adjusting."
Japan enter the final as favourites to add to their record of four Asian Cup titles after peaking at just the right time.
But Qatar coach Felix Sanchez insisted the 2022 World Cup hosts were confident ahead of the country's first appearance in the final after comfortably winning all six of their matches and keeping a record six clean sheets.
"To us it's no surprise that we are in the final," said the Spaniard, who has received messages of support from Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger.
"I have full trust in the players, they are motivated to make history."
According to reports, striker Almoez Ali, who has scored a record-equalling eight goals at the tournament, and defender Bassam Al-Rawi are the players being investigated by the AFC.
But Sanchez dismissed fears of AFC action.
"I'm not concerned at all," he shrugged. "All the players are working with us, so no worries."
© 2019 AFP