A veritable galaxy of European-based stars might be missing from the inaugural East Asian Football Federation Championship, but the absence of names like Hidetoshi Nakata, Junichi Inamoto, Naohiro Takahara, Song Chung-gug, Lee Young-pyo, Li Tie and Sun Jihai might not be enough of an excuse to prevent some damning opinions being formed about the reign of the three coaches in whose hands the fate of Japan, South Korea and China have been entrusted in the wake of the 2002 World Cup. The three - Japan's Brazilian Zico, Korea's Portuguese Humberto Coelho and China's Dutchman Arie Haan - have all had a less than sparkling time as they attempt to impose their tactics and philosophies and settle on their personnel. 'After one year this a big test for these coaches,' says Kwok Ka-ming, Hong Kong Football Association's technical consultant, who as a FIFA and AFC coaching instructor is well attuned to the undercurrents that East Asia's big fish swim in. 'All three are new, with different mentalities and philosophies.' Unlike China and Japan, South Korea have had the advantage of a round of Asian Cup qualifying to hone their competitive edge, but while their young, under-strength side qualified they suffered surprising defeats against Oman and Vietnam followed by a 1-0 home loss in a friendly against Bulgaria. 'It might sound like the team's morale has gone down the toilet, but that's not true,' Coelho told the Daily Yomiuri on his arrival in Japan. However the confidence of all three nations, and particularly their confidence in the coaches, is sitting in close proximity to the toilet seat, with China having won only once under Haan and Japan showing nothing like the form they produced prior to the World Cup in recent friendlies. Perhaps tellingly, Zico is abandoning his beloved Brazilian-style 4-4-2 formation - where the fullbacks go forward aggressively along with two attacking midfielders, while the other two midfielders combine with the centre-backs in defence - and will instead start today's match against China with a 3-5-2 formation more suited to his almost exclusively J.League based squad. 'I wanted to use whatever the players are most used to. The reason I choose this formation is because the majority of the players use it in their clubs,' Zico said. 'In the future we would like to use three or four backs and I'd even like them to be able to switch during the game. So this is a very good opportunity to try this during the tournament. We would like to use it throughout the tournament, but there is no guarantee. It depends on how they do in their first game.' That last comment is particularly revealing - a tacit admittance of the importance of results over longer-term development of his squad - yet the switch also suggests the legendary player is realising the system he successfully implemented in his reign at Kashima Antlers may not be so easy to impose given the occasional and hurried contact that is the lot of the national team coach. 'What Zico is saying is surprising. He's had 15 matches with the 4-4-2 formation, totally changing from Philippe Troussier. Now that the big guns aren't here, especially the midfield, which is the core of the team, he's trying to leave the players with no excuse not to play well. He's saying 'you play 3-5-2 in your clubs? Show me how well',' said Kwok. 'Troussier was very detailed - you do this, you do that - and the Japanese are very good at following instructions. They don't deal as well with flexibility. Zico wants the players to express their ability but the 'how?' is important to the Japanese. Zico is not arrogant like Troussier. Troussier was 'this is my way, so do this'. Zico is more flexible, that's why he has lasted so long in Japan. He's a little bit like Bora Milutinovic although not to the same extent.' China might be wishing Haan was also more like Milutinovic, who took them to their first World Cup finals. Haan told the Post his priority is to gauge the potential of some of the younger players in his squad and is insisting winning the tournament is not essential. Kwok argues that his talent search may be fruitless. 'He knows very well that they don't have the quality. That's why he has brought Hao Haidong back,' Kwok said. 'Haan can only maximise the best he's got, but he's only had seven matches compared to 14 to 15 for Korea and Japan.'