With just over a week to go until the curtains are raised for the AFC Asian Cup 2019, The coaches who have a major point to prove in the competition.
1) Carlos Queiroz (Iran)
Among the most high-profile coaches in the tournament, all eyes will be on Iran manager Carlos Queiroz when Team Melli begin their bid to end a 43-year trophy drought.
Queiroz’s journey with the national team has been far from smooth-sailing, with feuds between him and former manager Branko Ivankovic making headlines, aside from the usual problems with the board.
Queiroz suffered backlash just weeks ahead of the tournament with his comments regarding the team’s expectations causing former striker Khodadad Azizi to lash out at the former Real Madrid manager.
Queiroz’s contract runs out at the end of the Asian Cup and nothing but victory will boost his chances of securing a renewal. To make matters worse, Iran will also be without a few key players, with star midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi chief among the absentees.
Despite that though, Iran still possess one of the most talented squads in the competition. After narrowly missing out on a knockout berth in the 2018 World Cup, the onus will be on Queiroz to fulfill the expectations of the fans and the team by overseeing a historic run by Team Melli. No sweat!
2) Stephen Constantine (India)
The man under possibly the most pressure going into the Asian Cup is Indian national team coach Stephen Constantine.
Constantine’s tenure with the Indian team started positively, with the Blue Tigers winning the SAFF Championships as well as the Intercontinental Cup and embarking on a 13-game unbeaten run.
However, it’s been all downhill since then, with rifts between the coach and a few of the senior players hogging the headlines.
Sunil Chettri, in particular, had an alleged falling out with Constantine, losing the captain’s armband in the process. According to reports, a few senior players also sought the removal of the English coach as they felt he was not fit enough to guide the team from a tactical perspective.
Dull, uninspiring football has been the theme of the Indian team under Constantine, but the AIFF refuted reports that stated they were planning on giving him the boot following the Asian Cup.
Instead, the governing body backed the coach to help the team embark on a historic journey in their return to Asia’s premier footballing event.
Regardless, the likelihood is that if India fail to leave their mark in the competition, it will be Constantine’s head on the line.
3) Marcello Lippi (China PR)
The biggest name in the competition and one of the most revered coaches in all of world football, Marcello Lippi too will feel the heat when China’s campaign in the Asian Cup takes flight.
Lippi took the reins of the Chinese team in 2016 with the hopes of making them a force to be reckoned with once again in the Asian circuit. However, his tenure has seen far too many pitfalls thus far and China now enter the Asian Cup with little to no expectations whatsoever.
Lippi’s side have struggled this year, winning just three of nine matches and scoring seven goals in the process. Their most recent defeat to Iraq has just piled the pressure on the Italian mastermind’s shoulders.
The World Cup-winning coach’s contract runs out after the Asian Cup and reports suggested he is not looking for an extension which means he would be eager to end his tenure on a high by making at least the quarter-finals of the competition.
4) Sven-Goran Eriksson (Philippines)
Sven-Goran Eriksson took charge of the Azkals ahead of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup amid much hype and expectations and coached the Philippines to a respectable semi-final berth.
The Azkals will be a part of the Asian Cup for the first time in their history and Eriksson will be looking to make their journey a memorable one.
Philippines have been grouped alongside Korea Republic, China and Kyrgyz Republic and enter the competition as massive underdogs, however, the general consensus within the camp is that under Eriksson, anything is possible.
Azkals captain Phil Younghusband too stressed on the importance of having such a well-reputed manager at the helm, saying, “When you bring in someone with such a big name they’re used to certain standards.
“They’re used to good quality and I think having someone who has those expectations and standards will, when he’s asking for things to be done, people in the organization are more inclined to do it because it’s coming from someone who has worked with the best in the world.
“If you bring that quality then that will benefit Philippine football, it will benefit the players, it will benefit the coaching staff around him and you should see better results.”
The Swede won the Serie A during his time with Lazio and also led England to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002; clear proof of his credentials as a manager, and if he can make history with the Azkals by winning a couple of games, it will go to show just how important having the right man at the helm is for a football team.
5) Milovan Rajevac (Thailand)
After a disastrous Suzuki Cup campaign in which Thailand failed to defend their crown, crashing out in the semi-finals, manager Milovan Rajevac came in for some intense scrutiny.
Rajevac’s rather pragmatic approach right through the competition eventually backfired against Malaysia in the semi-finals and fans were left fuming as a result.
The Thailand FA too have reportedly issued the Serb an ultimatum stating that Rajevac needs to ensure a knockout round berth for the War Elephants in the Asian Cup to retain his job.
However, the coach has so far seemed immune to the pressure and criticism levelled at him. Thailand have failed to make it into the knockout rounds of the Asian Cup since 1972, when they reached the semi-finals, and the onus is on their coach now to deliver big-time.
“We were able to spend a lot of time together because of the ASEAN Championship and with the Asian Cup we’ll be looking to achieve something we haven’t achieved before. Our minimum expectation is to go through to the Round of 16, to go through the group,” Rajevac said.
“That’s our minimum, but going to the best 16 is not going to satisfy us. We won’t just be happy with that and we’ll try to go step-by-step.”