[ASIAN CUP] Shinji Kagawa, Borussia Dortmund's 21-year-old Bundesliga sensation, will lead favorite Japan in its bid to win a record fourth title at the 2011 Asian Cup, which kicks off Friday in Doha. The tournament is the first since Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup but will be played in
decidedly more moderate conditions -- highs in the high 70s -- than those that will be in store for everyone if the 2022 tournament is held as planned in the summer.
Italian Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan's new coach, likes the Blue Samurai's chances.
“Going out with this lineup, we should not fear any opponent,” he says.
CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda is also among the eight foreign-based players Zaccheroni called up.
But Japan, which reached the second round of the 2010 World Cup and defeated Argentina in a friendly last fall, also features four uncapped players, including Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Tadanari Lee, who is of South Korean descent.
The biggest international star at the Asian Cup will be Manchester United's Park Ji-Sung, who will captain South Korea in what should be his last international competition before he quits the national team.
South Korea also reached the second round at the 2010 World Cup -- its seventh straight appearance in the finals -- but has not won the Asian Cup since 1960.
South Korea's biggest competition in Group C should be Australia, which will hope to do better than it did four years ago when it reached the quarterfinals in its debut after moving from Oceania.
Former Canada and Vancouver Whitecaps (NASL) coach Holger Osieck has taken over as Socceroos head coach and will rely on veterans Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell, Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill and Brett Emerton.
The defending champion is Iraq, which was still in the throes of the conflict brought on by the American occupation four years ago when it won the title.
After being quickly eliminated from 2010 World Cup qualifying, Iraq plummeted in the world rankings but has looked strong since Wolfgang Sidka took over as coach in August.
Frenchman Bruno Metsu hopes to work the same magic when he led Senegal to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. He has spent the last two years working with the host Qatari national team that will be led by Uruguayan-born Sebastian Soria Quintana.
The tournament has presented conflicts for national teams seeking the release of players from European clubs. The alternative date for the tournament was June but that was ruled out because of the weather.
The only MLS player called up was Sporting Kansas City's Sunil Chhetri, who will represent India, which is playing in its first tournament in 24 years.
China, Kuwait, Qatar, Uzbekistan
Japan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria
Australia, Bahrain, India, South Korea
Iran, Iraq, North Korea, United Arab Emirates
TV Update: Matches can be purchased by consumers on a per-game basis via pay-per-view. One World Sports has licensed the full event to iN DEMAND (www.indemand.com), which will distribute the tournament to various cable and satellite systems.