Shaken Saudis look to salvage reputation

Doha, Jan 16 (AFP) Saudi Arabia are looking to salvagetheir reputation when they face fellow three-time championsJapan in their final group match tomorrow after theirhumiliating exit from the tournament.

"We will exert every effort to perform well," SaudiArabia coach Nasser Al Johar said on the eve of the Group Bmatch.

"We will also try to think about our destiny, our nameand our reputation."

"Our players hope they will use all their potential to dothat and restore our reputation again."

Saudi Arabia were stunned by unfancied Syria 2-1 and thenbowed 1-0 to Jordan to assure themselves of bottom spot on thegroup table.

After the first defeat, their Portuguese coach JosePeseiro was fired and the fallout continued after the Jordanloss with King Abdullah removing Prince Sultan Bin Fahd aspresident of the Saudi Football Federation.

Al Johar refused to comment on the prince''s dismissalwith a conference moderator limiting questions to issuesdirectly related to the tournament.

It is only the second time in Asian Cup history thatSaudi Arabia have not made it to the knockout stages.

"We are able to restore our reputation in the tournament.

We''ll have to win," Saudi defender Mohammed Massad said.

"Even though we have been eliminated, this is a destinyby God. We''ll prepare ourselves for the coming days."

Japan boss Alberto Zaccheroni, a former AC Milan coach,warned against Saudi Arabia''s potential.

"While Syria and Jordan fight by forming blocks, SaudiArabia have techniques," he said.

"I expect them to fight with a creative and imaginativeflair. We cannot afford to loosen up and we must fightcourageously."

It was Saudi Arabia who crushed Japan''s hope of lifting athird straight title in 2007 by beating them in thesemi-finals.

With four points from a draw with Jordan and a 2-1 winover Syria, the Blue Samurai can qualify for the last-eight ifthey draw or beat the Saudis. Japan can still go throughdepending on the margin of a loss to Saudi Arabia.

Japan captain and Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebesaid: "We haven"t got anything yet. We will be outdone if welet our guard down. We can win if we continue to fight as wedid against Syria when players on the pitch and players on thebench played with one mind."

Zaccheroni played down the absence of World Cupgoalkeeper Eiji Kawashima due to a red card controversiallyimposed on him in the Syria match when he brought down aSyrian player flagged offside.

The referee overturned the offside call.

Tomsk midfielder Daisuke Matsui is also expected to missthe Saudi match due to a fresh leg injury and CSKA Moscowmidfiedler Keisuke Honda is nursing his right ankle which washurt in the Syria match. (AFP) SHN

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