The 2019 Asian Cup is here. For the first time, 24 teams will battle for ultimate supremacy in Asian football. The battle to take the title from the Socceroos of Australia will be fierce.
So what’s the ado about it?
From time immemorial, football’s second oldest national team competition (after the Copa America) has never ceased to disappoint.
Eras have come and gone. Surprises have been sprung (Iraq’s 2007 triumph comes to mind). Legends have come and gone and yet the Asian Cup only gets more glamorous. It’s a crime it’s not followed out of Asia and doesn’t get the attention other national team competitions get.
The calendar maybe? It would surely be unfair to think of Asian football as the most inferior of the six continents no? At least an Asian Team has made the last sixteen of the past five FIFA World Cups bar Brazil 2014.
What Do We Expect?
As the seventeenth edition of the competition begins tomorrow, expectations are high.
The UAE are hosts and would like to go one better than they did the last time they entertained Asia. Omar Abdulrahman is out. However, they can take heart from Amer Abdulrahman’s performance at the FIFA Club World Cup and hope Ali Makhbout still has a lot left in the tank.
In Alberto Zaccheroni, they have the 2011 Asian Cup winning Coach. Standing in Emirati way are Bahrain, Thailand and India. Miroslav Soukop’s Bahrain have a lot to live up to given Bahrain’s recent performances. Their near-misses at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups seems a long time ago. But they are still fresh at home.
Add, Quarter final finishes in three of the last four Asian Cups and you would surely expect them to progress from the group. The Thai and the Indians are equally under pressure. The Thais are desperate to extend ASEAN dominance to making a mark in the Asian Cup. Stephen Constantine’s India are delighted to join the party, however, there is the demand for his head should the team fail to perform on her return to Asia’s biggest showpiece.
Australia, Jordan, Palestine and Syria make up Group B. The Socceroos will be expected to stroll through. Syria and Jordan are rank favorites to duel for the second automatic slot. Both keen to make fans forget the trouble at home. Most especially Syria.
China, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines and South Korea make up an interesting Group C. The Chinese and Koreans are favorites to sweep aside other group members on paper, but teams aren’t as easy as they seem. China are mired in a winless run that has seen the high hopes for project 2050 gradually begin to fade.
Paulo Bento’s Korea may be unbeaten in 6games since his appointment, but star man Heung-Min Son would be unavailable till Matchday 3 due to an agreement with his club. The Phillipines are coached by Sven-Goran Eriksson, and it would be pure folly to write off the debuting Kyrgyzs.
Iran, Iraq, Vietnam and Yemen will aim to bring the party in an otherwise boring Group D on paper. Team Melli are known more for defensive discipline than attacking flair, while Iraq have not been the same since that historic triumph in 2007. Vietnam, were co-hosts in that tournament, and they would hope to do better.
The Yemenis have overcome the most difficult of adversaries to make it this far. It would be naïve not to give them an outside chance of braving the odds to make their fans at home happy.
Lebanon, North Korea, Qatar and Saudi Arabia occupy Group E. It is Qatar’s last taste of competitive football before their home World Cup in 2022 and a litmus test of how far they have gone in that project. The Green Falcons of Saudi Arabia were not expected to pick up any points in Russia, but they did.
Juan Antonio Pizzi has got them playing sleek football and stuck to that style despite facing more illustrious opponents during the World Cup. it would be a crowning moment should it win them the Asian Cup. North Korea on the other hand have been in reverse since their sensational World Cup Qualification in 2010.
Expectations aren’t much for this competition, but, a group stage elimination is not acceptable either.
Group F houses three-time champion Japan along with Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The Blue Samurai are bookies favorites to win the competition, and rightly so, they come into the tournament better prepared than all of their rivals and don’t have to wait till Matchday 3 to have their star striker back. Gaku Shibasaki, Takumi Minamino and Genku Haraguchi must lead from the front and write their names in the history books.
They must look over their backs, Uzbekistan have been the most consistent team at recent Asian Cups, Their recent appointment of Hector Cuper as coach gives you ideas of what the plan is there. Oman were hammered 5-0 by Australia in a pre-tournament friendly.
They have never gone beyond the group stage before, However, their recent Gulf Cup of Nations title under the watchful eye of pragmatic Pim Verbeek gives them cause for hope. Turkmenistan will well, be Turkmenistan.
Nothing but the triumph of beautiful football is our wish for the Asian Cup.
Cheers to the festival!
Which of these teams do you think will triumph? Leave us your comments and share your thoughts with us.
Author: Tosin Adesina
A football purist.