Pattaya: Japan will respect every opponent they face at the AFC Beach Soccer Championship Thailand 2019, according to head coach Ruy Ramos, who believes the sport has never been more competitive in Asia.
The only Asian nation to have appeared at every World Cup, the East Asians are one of the Continent's traditional beach soccer heavyweights, and are expected to be among the contenders once again this year, but their highly-experienced mentor expects to be challenged, starting with their opening match against Kuwait.
"I've been involved in beach soccer for over 10 years, and I think this is the most competitive competition we've had in Asia," declared the 62-yer-old.
"I see the coaches and players at the Asian level are growing, and I expect a very difficult competition."
Ramos' story is a remarkable one. Born in Brazil, he carved out a 20-year professional football career in Japan, eventually representing the senior national team 31 times in the 1990s, before playing a major role in the development of beach soccer in the nation.
Now in his third stint as Japan head coach, Ramos has returned to the sport following a spell in charge of professional football club FC Gifu, and he is excited by the development being made on the beaches of Asia.
"I've been away from beach soccer, but I've been watching all the games and competitions," he said.
"The coaching level is going up, and the coaches are teaching the players. Looking at the World Cup, teams like (Islamic Republic of) Iran and Oman are competitive against European and South American teams. Every Asian team is growing and the level is growing."
"Ten years ago I didn't believe Asian teams could be the finalists in the World Cup, but now you see Iran doing well, and it's not only Iran who are doing well. I believe every team has the potential to be competitive."
One man who will be hoping to prove Ramos right is new Kuwait head coach Ahmed Abdelrazak, who has lofty ambitions for his new side having enjoyed previous success with his native Egypt, who now sit 12th in the global rankings.
"The Kuwait federation has a plan to develop the national team for the next two years, and I promise we will achieve great things in the next two years," he said.
"We had a very short period for preparation, around two months only, but Kuwait have the passion to reach a very high level in this tournament. That's why they contacted me, and we made a long term plan to develop the team.
"When I started working with the Egyptian national team we were ranked 74. After four years of working, last year Egypt reached fifth in the world. I will implement the same plans and I have the passion to make the same success with Kuwait," he concluded.
The other match in Group C will see an all-West Asian affair between Bahrain and Qatar, with both coaches hoping their youthful sides can perform strongly. on the Continental stage.
Bahrain are one of six Asian nations to have appeared at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, but head coach Mahmood Al Ghawi believes his side has a long way to go before they can finish as one of the top three sides in Pattaya.
"I know everyone remembers Bahrain from 2006 and 2009, when we were among the top teams, but our team now is new. We must try, but it will difficult for us as we lack exposure," he conceded.
Qatar have also had minimal exposure to competitive beach soccer in recent years, but coach Abdullah Jassim said his players would give their all.
"We came to this competition having stopped for two years after the last tournament (in 2017)," he said. "We have a new team and in this competition we're trying to have a new experience and reach the highest level we can."
Friday (Local time)
Bahrain v Qatar (17:30)
Japan v Kuwait (20:30)
Iraq v Islamic Republic of Iran (19:00)Source: the-afc.com