FC Tokyo coach Kenta Hasegawa may not be a stranger to a centralized Asian tournament hosted by Qatar but that still did not prevent him from calling the 2020AFC Champions League East Zone a unique tournament.
In 1993, a good 27 years before the pandemic-delayed 2020 AFC Champions League currently ongoing in the 2022 FIFA World Cup host nation, Hasegawa had been part of the Japanese national team in the final round of Asian qualifiers for the 1994 FIFA World Cup which had followed a centralized hosting model.
On his return to another centralized completion in the West Asian nation, Hasegawa told media on Monday ahead of his team’s Group F clash against Shanghai Shenhua that the 2020 AFC Champions League is a tournament the likes of which he has never experienced before.
“This is a special tournament as it is being held in an unusual year,” Hasegawa implying the global COVID health crisis which has had massive sporting as well as political ramifications in Japan owing to the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games scheduled to be held in the same city of which Hasegawa’s club is the face of in J.League.
The 55-year-old, however, lauded the contribution of the tournament organisers working to ensure things are as smooth as can be for the teams under the prevalent Government-mandated protocols.
“I understand that the AFC and the Local Organizing Committee of the tournament have put in a tremendous effort to make this tournament a reality in unusual circumstances and we appreciate this. Asian football is developing at a rapid pace and is catching up with the top level. We are happy to represent the J.League in this competition. We hope to play in the normal style of FC Tokyo in the coming days.”
Hasegawa acknowledges that the compact nature of the centralized hosting model will help his team achieve their objectives by focusing more on training and on-field performance and less on logistics.
“In a centralized hosting model such as this, we are saved from the stress of travelling,” said the former Samurai Blue forward who took charge of the capital club in 2018. “In the AFC Champions League traditional home and away format, for example, we have to travel to Australia which is a 10-hour journey. This is not needed in the centralized format which we are having now.
Hasegawa also said that his team has been waiting for a long time to restart the AFC Champions League whose normal schedule was hit by the outbreak of the COVID pandemic in March. FC Tokyo had played two group games in February winning against Perth Glory and sharing points with Ulsan Hyundai. “My team has been wanting to come to Qatar to restart the 2020 AFC Champions League. We have had a week’s preparation ahead of our first game and we will be ready for the game.”
Kim Doo-hoon, the coach of FC Tokyo’s fellow Group F leaders Ulsan Hyundai, reemphasized his statement of last week when he had praised Qatar’s quarantine facilities and COVID safety protocols. “It is true a lot of players were worried about Coronavirus and there is a lot of pressure because of the disease,” he told media on Monday ahead of his side’s group game against Perth Glory.
“We follow the safety protocols of Qatar and everyone in the team knows how important it is to do this. We also practice social distancing and one example is that we have single rooms in the hotel. Coronavirus has not affected our football preparations though – the players knew about the situation before they came for the tournament and have been focusing on what they need to do.”