On Friday the 9th of January the Asian Cup starts in Australia. This year there are many teams that could take home the crown, and the competition is set to be fiercer than ever. In this preview I will look briefly over the teams, the players to watch, and my predictions for Asian football’s showpiece event.
Group A: Australia, Korea Republic, Kuwait, Oman
Group B: China, Korea DPR, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan
Group C: Bahrain, Iran, Qatar, UAE
Group D: Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Palestine
All of the best sides in Asian football are at this tournament, and this means that all of these groups are very competitive. The Japanese are reigning champions, and they have a fairly easy group to help their cause. I think that Iraq and Jordan will fight it out for second, as I struggle to see first-timers Palestine making a splash, although it was a monumental effort just to qualify for the tournament. In Group A the match between Australia and Korea Republic, two of the best in Asia, is sure to provide a great match, and Oman and Kuwait will not be easy to beat. Group B is slightly weaker, but still extremely competitive, and although Uzbekistan go in as the best side and should progress, Saudi Arabia, China and Korea DPR are all very even. In Group C some excellent match-ups should ensue, but Iran should pass through easily enough with the UAE or Qatar in second.
The Players to watch
Omar Abdulrahman (UAE)
Abdulrahman is a very promising youngster who plays as a winger or attacking midfielder. While he does not have many goals under his belt he makes a lot of very important assists. He burst onto the scene in the 2012 Olympic Games and since then has led the UAE to victory in the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations.
Reza Ghoochannejhad (Iran)
Along with the UAE’s Ali Mabkhout, Ghoochannejhad was the top scorer in qualifying with 5 goals. He has played plenty of football in Europe, and he has become one of Iran’s most prolific scorers. It will be very interesting to see how he performs in this tournament, with Iran being one of the favourites.
Keisuke Honda (Japan)
Honda is a dead-ball specialist, and he has scored a number of brilliant World Cup goals during his 65-game international career. He can also act as a creative fulcrum, and when combining with players like Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki he should provide Japan with a lot of success during the tournament.
Shinji Kagawa (Japan)
Kagawa will play as a winger or attacking midfielder during the tournament. There will be a lot of pressure placed on him to perform, as a big money move to Manchester United has ensured. He is now back at Borussia Dortmund, his former club, and he has a real chance to perform during this tournament.
Robbie Kruse (Australia)
Unlike some of these players, Kruse will not be placed under too much pressure. He isn’t very well known yet, but he has already performed well for the Australians in his few matches. He played particularly well in World Cup qualifying, but was injured for the final tournament, where he could well have played an important role.
Son Heung-Min (Korea Republic)
Son plays for Bayer Leverkusen in Germany and is a great player. He is definitely South Korea’s best footballer at the moment, and he has scored most of his goals in the last two years. He was also the youngest player to score a Bundesliga goal and the first Korean to score a Bundesliga hat-trick. A lot of weight will be placed upon his shoulders.
In the end I think that the Japanese will take out the title again. They have the best side overall, with stars like Honda, Kagawa and Okazaki. Australia, Iran and also Korea Republic will come close, and Uzbekistan could mount a charge, but in the end Japan are just a cut above the rest of the competition.