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Defending champions Japan arrive for Asian Cup without star defender Uchida

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The Asian Cup will be part of a rapid getting-to-know-you phase for the bulk of teams and their coaches in Australia, adding an extra layer of difficulty — and intrigue — to the continental championship.

There are plenty of new players for the quadrennial tournament starting Friday, and more new faces in the coaching ranks — only six of the 16 teams had the same coach at the end of 2014 that they started the year with.

Defending champion Japan arrived over the weekend missing one of its stars — and with a new coach.

Defender Atsuto Uchida, who has not fully recovered from a tendon injury in his right knee, will remain with his German Bundesliga club Schalke 04 for treatment, coach Javier Aguirre said. Uchida, who has 71 caps, was a member of the team that beat Australia in the 2011 Asian Cup final.

Aguirre was hired in August to replace Alberto Zaccheroni after Japan's poor World Cup campaign in Brazil last summer.

The Japanese begin their title defense against the Palestinian team in Newcastle on Jan. 12, three days after the tournament opener between Australia and Kuwait in Melbourne.

South Korea also has a new coach, former Real Madrid midfielder Uli Stielike, who replaced Hong Myung-bo in September after a similarly disappointing World Cup performance. He'll be attempting to bring the continental trophy back to South Korea for the first time since 1960.

South Korea arrived in Australia with six European-based players for the tournament, but there was no place for former Arsenal striker Park Chu-young. Park, who left Arsenal early in 2014 and fared poorly at the World Cup, recently joined Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia.

The South Korean squad includes Son Heung-min of Bayer Leverkusen, one of four players from the Bundesliga, and midfielder Ki Seung-yeung of Swansea City in the English Premier League.

Performances in last month's Gulf Cup also resulted in Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain all firing their coaches.

Bahrain's coach had the shortest tenure of them all. Adnan Hamad, one of Asia's most experienced coaches, was appointed in August only to be fired three months later after his team failed to advance to the knockout stages of the Gulf Cup.

Kuwait started the Gulf Cup in promising fashion but fired Brazilian coach Jorvan Vieira following a loss to Oman. Vieira, who led Iraq to the 2007 Asian Cup title, was replaced by former Tunisia midfielder Nabil Maaloul.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014 file photo, Japan national soccer team manager Javier Aguirre speaks during a press conference at the Japan Football Association headquarters in Tokyo. The Asian Cup will be part of a rapid getting-to-know-you phase for the bulk of teams and their coaches in Australia, adding an extra layer of difficulty to the continental championship. Aguirre was hired in August to replace Alberto Zaccheroni. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)
FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014 file photo, Japan national soccer team manager Javier Aguirre speaks during a press conference at the Japan Football Association headquarters in Tokyo. The Asian Cup will be part of a rapid getting-to-know-you phase for the bulk of teams and their coaches in Australia, adding an extra layer of difficulty to the continental championship. Aguirre was hired in August to replace Alberto Zaccheroni. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)

Saudi Arabia has changed coaches more than 20 times since reaching the second round of the 1994 World Cup. At nearly two years, Juan Lopez Caro lasted longer than most, but was let go after losing the final of the Gulf Cup in Riyadh to Qatar.

Romanian Cosmin Olaroiu, formerly in charge of United Arab Emirates club Al Ahli, took over as the new Saudi coach.

Iraq also fired its coach, Hakeem Shaker, following a last-place finish in its group at the Gulf Cup and replaced him with former national player Radhi Shenaishil.

Host Australia is still getting used to its new coach, too. Since Ange Postecoglou was hired in October 2013, the Socceroos were knocked out in the group stage of the World Cup and have won only once in their last 10 matches.

Postecoglou included 16 of the 23 players he took to the World Cup in his final 23-man squad for the Asian Cup. Seven of the players took part in the last Asian Cup in 2011, including Tim Cahill, captain Mile Jedinak, Robbie Kruse and Tommy Oar.

"It's been almost six months in the making since the FIFA World Cup," Postecoglou said. "We've had a series of games where there have been some pretty clear objectives, particularly in terms of broadening the pool and seeing whether we could get some better balance in the squad and more depth."

The tournament hosts have slid to No. 100 in the world rankings, and are just 10th among the Asian teams. But New York Bulls striker Cahill said that wasn't such a bad thing.

"OK, our rankings have dropped, our football has improved," Cahill said of Australia's strong opposition in the past year.

"We could have played Qatar, UAE and Japan in Australia (for) possibly two out of three wins. Our rankings would have stayed up a bit and everyone would have been happy. It would have put a smoke screen over what really we should be learning about."

Jedinak, the last Australian player to arrive in camp following his Premier League duties with Crystal Palace, feels the Socceroos have a legitimate chance of winning the Asian Cup.

"I think 100 percent we've got the right blend," Jedinak said. "We know what's happened in the last year, in terms of the games ... it's all been built up toward this point."


Associated Press writer John Duerden contributed to this story.

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