We live in a footballing climate that offers an experience to watch the sport we love(and hate sometimes) from around the globe. It gives us the choice to pick and choose what type or brand of football we want to watch. Whether it be the historical English FA Cup, the slick Spanish Premiera Liga, the flair of the Brasileiro Serie A, or perhaps, if you allow me to suggest, the Asian Cup.
Tomorrow will mark the start of this years Asian Cup, held by everyone’s favourite new host extraordinaire, Qatar. As 1 billion people are expected to watch the tournament around the globe and absorb one of football’s best kept secrets – why on Earth are Qatar holding a major international tournament?
This years tournament will be the first one of its kind to have the eyes of the west so keenly fixed on the planning and organisation that went in to the stadia, and competition set up, as people tune in for a small taster of things to come in 2022.
The tournament is set up in much the same way as the European Championship, with a qualification round followed by a group phase consisting of 4 groups, with 4 sides, where the top 2 qualify to the knock out round that continues on until the final.
Group A stands as the most unpredictable of all four groups as hosts Qatar, ranked 115th , are accompanied by Uzbekistan(109), Kuwait(102), and China(87) who all failed to top their qualification groups. All four sides call upon squads with the majority of players playing within their own domestic leagues and despite the gulf in quality compared to the rest of the competition, don’t have much between themselves, and could make for some interesting, open football.
Going out with this lineup, we should not fear any opponent. – Alberto Zaccheroni
Group B introduces us to the obvious favourites for the competition, Japan. The Samurai Blue have looked in excellent form after new coach Alberto Zaccheroni took over the side after their impressive World Cup display where they beat Cameroon and Denmark to reach a very respectable last 16 spot, where they went out to Paraguay.
Zaccheroni has done well to continue the momentum following the World Cup, winning the Kirin Challenge Cup back in September beating Paraguay, Guatamala and a surprise victory over Argentina. The Islands of the far East, also hold one of the strongest squads in the tournament with star players such as Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow who set the World Cup alight, and 21-year-old Shinji Kagawa, a recently unknown midfielder from Cerezo Osaka who joined Dortmund in the pre season, and has been one of the main contributors to the biggest surprise story in European football as his side rest comfortably at the top of the Bundesliga, grateful of his 8 goals so far this season.
Japan have been placed in group B alongside 3 time champion’s Saudi Arabia who could cause some problems with experienced coach Jose Poseiro,as well as Jordan and Syria. The table looks like a foregone conclusion with Japan topping with ease, followed by Saudi Arabia, while Jordan and Syria do there best to keep the goal difference as low as possible.
Looking at the list of teams who’ve qualified, many will be unable to look past Australia as favourites for the trophy. The nation is the highest ranked side in Asia (25th) according to FIFA Rankings, and have a squad that bolsters players such as Tim Cahill, and a squad plucked from most top European leagues. But with an ageing side that disappointed many a neutral, including myself, in the World Cup last summer, it will be hard to expect anything from the Socceroos.
it’s very difficult for me to consider ourselves favourites – Tim Cahill
Despite bringing in new manager, Holger Osieck, the team still rely heavily on Premier League heavy hitters of the past such as Lucas Neil, Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton who’s better days are behind them. Qualification from Group C and a quarter finals spot is a must for Australia, but few expect anything else from the team from down under.
Also in Group C, are South Korea, who will be feeling confident going into the tournament on the back of a surprising World Cup where they reached the last 16, before going out to an impressive Uruguay side. The Tigers of Asia will also be reassured from the recent form of its key players. Park Ji Sung will perhaps be the most notable player for the side who sits top of the English Premier League with Manchester United, while Celtic’s Ki-Sung Yueng and Cha Du Ri have impressed in the SPL, as well as Lee Chung-Yong for in-form Bolton. Behrain and India make up the last two spots in the group as two side’s with little to no expectation who will be looking to upset the two forerunners for the group and capitalise on any slip ups.
Group D is composed of North Korea, Iran, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. The group comes without any clear favourites and has the possibility to upset. North Korea will no doubt be entering the tournament with a wave of confidence following their performance in the World Cup and that match against Brazil. Place that alongside holders, Iraq, and 2007 Quarter finalists Iran and you have a three-horse race for two spots with the UAE trying to keep the results respectable.
The Tournament will kick off on Friday with Hosts Qatar facing Uzbekistan to kick-start Group A, and hopefully, an eventful tournament. The tournament will be broadcast on Eurosport in the Uk with the final taking place on the 29th.
You can follow Stefan Bienkowski on Twitter @Stefan_gla