Caio focused on AFC Champions League glory with Al-Ain
Caio focused on AFC Champions League glory with Al-Ain
The pain of losing the 2016 final still lingers for the UAE club, who are desperate to add a second continental title after winning the inaugural edition of the tournament back in 2003.
Fortune has already favored Al-Ain. Shabab Al-Ahli’s ineligibility for this year’s edition has gifted the club a spot in today’s playoff against Bahraini champions Malkiya. The pain of the defeat to South Korea’s Jeonbul Hyundai in the 2016 final still lingers for many and Caio is all too aware of the need to go far in this year’s competition.
“It is really important,” Caio told Arab News.
“(It’s) a great championship, and we’ve been always there. We want to show our strength and win this title.
“(The defeat to Jeonbul Hyundai) makes us sad. We did a great job to get there, and at the end we didn’t get what we wanted.
“We’re focused now and
we’re going to fight to do well
in the year’s competition.”
Born in Araçatuba, near Sao Paulo, Caio moved to Japan when he was only 17, having been spotted by Chiba Kokusai High School during a trial in his native Brazil.
Helping the school to a historic fourth place at the national high school tournament, a prestigious annual event in Japan, Caio caught the eye of one of Japan’s most successful clubs, Kashima Antlers, and was soon strutting his stuff in the J.League.
Along the way he collected the J.League Rookie of the Year in 2014, becoming the first, and so far only, foreigner to receive the award.
Having lived in Japan since 2011, and impressing as he did, before long there was talk of the winger being naturalized and playing for the Samurai Blue.
“I would accept it, without any doubt,” he told JSoccer Magazine in 2014. “This country has helped me a lot, I turned professional here. I think I owe a lot to Japan.”
But in 2016, and nearing five years in Japan that would make him eligible for naturalization under FIFA’s rules, an offer came from Al-Ain.
“It was really hard to leave Kashima,” Caio explained.
“I was playing very well
and scoring, but it was my choice
to be in another place, with
Eighteen months on and Caio has no regrets over his decision to move and also give up the opportunity to represent Japan, which he says is now behind him.
“I like here very much,” he said. “(The UAE) is a great country to live in. Here you can live with joy and peace. I really like it here.
“There’s no chance of (playing for Japan). There was before when I was playing in Japan, but I needed to be there one more year. It’s in the past now, it’s not going to happen anymore.”
With Japan widely regarded as the leading nation in Asian football, Caio is uniquely positioned to compare football in the Emirates to that in the Land of the Rising Sun.
“Japanese football is a bit faster, more dynamic,” he said.
“Here is more about fighting, giving it all on the pitch, (a bit) slower. But I have no doubt that here or in Japanese football there are many good games to watch, excellent matches.”
Having eased ahead of Al-Wasl on the table since the resumption of the league in early January, Al-Ain are on track for their first league title since 2015.
“I’m very satisfied with the level of our work and our intensity,” he said. “We’re really focused on our goal, and that is to be champions.”
While his own personal output may have dropped when it comes to goals scored, scoring just once in 12 matches, compared to the 12 goals he scored last season, the 23-year-old is happy to put team success first.
“I haven’t scored many goals this year, but I believe I’ve been really useful for the team,” he said.
“Scoring is important, but at the end the tittle is what really counts. I’ve worked and given my best, so, no doubt, goals are going to come.”
With speculation mounting over the future of Al-Wasl’s Brazilian striker Fabio de Lima, who has been linked with a move to Europe at the end of the season, Caio says that while he too has dreams of playing in Europe, he is happy to repay the faith shown in him by Al-Ain.
“Every single player dreams of playing in Europe or to even win the Champions League,” he explained.
“(But) at this moment, I’m just focused on helping Al Ain to win titles here, and give them back all they have been giving me.”
Saudi Arabia hopeful ahead of opening Asian Games opening clash against Iran
- Young Falcons hopeful of a semifinal spot.
- Under-23 players keen on making a name for themselves in Indonesia.
JAKARTA: There is a widely held belief that to succeed in sport, you must start early.
Officials from the Saudi Arabia National Olympic Committee will be hoping it rings true this month as the Kingdom’s Under-23 football team prepares to prematurely kick-off its Asian Games campaign this afternoon in Jakarta, three days before the continent’s largest multi-sport competition officially begins.
Similar to the Olympics, the football tournament starts before the opening ceremony and finishes on the competition’s final day, Sept. 2. The fledgling Young Falcons face Iran today at the 28,000-capacity Wibawa Mukti Stadium in the Indonesian capital.
The Saudi NOC have brought a delegation of 169 athletes, including eight females, and will compete across 22 disciplines, including athletics, shooting, taekwondo and volleyball. The three-week Asian Games operate both as a continental precursor and, at times, a qualifying tournament for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The Young Falcons made their football debut at the Asian Games in South Korea four years ago, reaching the quarterfinals in Incheon, before losing to Iraq. Their regional neighbors were inspired by legendary striker Younes Mahmoud, who had been included as one of Iraq’s three over-age players and scored twice in a 3-0 win.
Yet the impact of Mahmoud in Korea has not influenced the team’s selection. With the Saudi Pro League starting next week, coach Saad Al-Shehri has opted to forego athletes older than 23, instead selecting a squad consisting primarily of Al-Ahli development players and a smattering of Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ettifaq-based youths.
“We haven’t brought any overage players because we are playing here as preparation for the U23 Asian Cup, which will offer qualification for Tokyo 2020,” said Faisal Almarashdi, a spokesman for the team.
“We have brought to Indonesia only players who are 21 or under as they will all be eligible for Tokyo. Many have already played at the Under-20 World Cup under coach Saad, so there was never any discussion to use the three allocated over-age slots.”
Abdullah Otayf is the model example of how Asian Games experience can help a young career. Four years ago, the deep-lying midfielder was part of the squad that traveled to Korea. This summer he was an integral part of the Green Falcons side that played at the World Cup in Russia.
With national team coach Juan Antonio Pizzi following the competition from afar, there will be chances to catch the eye for the likes of striker Haroune Camara and midfielders Abdullah Yahya Magrshi and Ali Hassan Al-Asmari ahead of January’s Asian Cup. Both midfielders have already made their full debuts for Ahli and featured in the Jeddah club’s Champions League campaign last season, while Al-Qadisiyah’s Camara was included in Pizzi’s provisional World Cup squad before being cut from the final 23.
“These Asian Games are very important for the young players involved,” Almarashdi added.
“They are the future of the senior team so if they play well here and at the U23 Asian Cup then, we hope, they will go to Tokyo 2020. From then on the pathway to the senior team is already very clear.”
Much like the seniors, the U23 side is both short and slight, with only two of the 10 midfielders and forwards standing above 5 foot 8 (172m). Today’s opponents Iran are not only taller and more physical, they also have, in Croatian coach Zlatko Kranjčar, a manager who knows West Asian football after short spells in Qatar and the UAE. In their most recent preparation match, Iran lost 3-2 to China.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, beat the UAE last week in Malaysia following a pair of friendlies against local sides. Today’s match will kick-off at 4 p.m. local time, midday in Saudi Arabia.