What started off with 24 teams now has exclusive eight, with four mouth-watering matches - each containing a former champion. It is tough to say who the favourites are but the most successful amongst all is Japan. The Blue Samurais have won the cup four times and would eye to make it a fifth. However, the most nerve-wracking fixture for the quarters is the Korea Republic and Qatar at Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi.
Let us see how the teams fare against each other.
VIETNAM v JAPAN:
Stadium: Al Maktoum, Dubai, January 24
Vietnam’s fairy-tale run in the Asian Cup is similar to that of Turkey in Euro 2008. The Golden Dragons will be playing their first ever quarters after their win against Jordan in a penalty shootout. For many Vietnam’s success would come as a surprise but for those who have followed the will know this triumph has not been achieved overnight. After Park Hang-seo took charge of the national team in 2017, the Red Warriors have been defying all odds in Asian football consistently.
Vietnam’s top performer is Cong Phuong who helped his team equalise in the dying minutes against Jordan. Their next opponent is competition's most successful team ever; the four-time champions Japan, who made it four wins from four with a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia.
However, the Blue Samurais have not looked at their best so far. They have struggled in finding the net. Although a sturdy defence the attack is in-experienced and is yet to be tested. And that is where the Golden Dragons might be smelling some blood against the rusty Samurais.
Nonetheless, getting the better of Japan will be a different ball game altogether and if Vietnam pulls out a rabbit from the hat it will go down into the history books as the best feat by an ASEAN team in history.
With the likes of Maya Yoshida and Yuto Nagatomo on Japan’s side, it will be a tough task for Vietnam to break their sturdy defence. Incredible game awareness and organising the defensive line are Yoshida’s key attributes. Park’s dragon would need the lady luck on their side for Thursday to overcome their biggest challenge so far.
CHINA PR v ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN:
Stadium: Mohammed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi, January 24
In an evenly matched fixture of the quarters, both China and Iran fancy their chances to play in the finals. Iran has been unbeaten in the tournament and is yet to concede a goal. Team Mellis are building nicely as they eye to win their first Asian Cup trophy since 1976.
Coach Carlos Queiroz’s team features many World Cup 2018 stars such as Morteza Pouraliganji, Karim Ansarifard, Alireza Beiranvand, Sardar Azmoun, and Alireza Jahanbakhsh among others. They have had a smooth run so far facing the likes of Vietnam, Yemen and Iraq in the group stage. A comprehensive 2-0 win over Oman in the Round of 16 was enough to make their presence felt in the tournament.
As for China PR, they hope to go in the history books by getting their hands on the elusive title. Their history in the tournament has been looked upon as a success as they have played six semi-finals in their Asian Cup history. Twice they have come close to winning twice in 1984 and 2004 as hosts, and third twice in 1976 and 1992. In 1988 and 2000 they finished fourth.
So far the Dragons have defied all odds by reaching this stage as they are the oldest side in the tournament. Marcello Lippi has picked up experience over young talent and shocked many when he included the 38-year-old Zheng Zhi.
This is their second consecutive quarter-finals of Asian Cup, having come from behind to beat Thailand 2-1.
KOREA REPUBLIC v QATAR:
Stadium: Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi, January 25
The Korea Republic are the strongest side with their most coveted player Son Heung-min. The Tottenham Hotspurs forward is in red hot form and the Reds would be banking their hopes on him to ease pass arguably their most challenging obstacle yet- Qatar.
Among the 23 players that Korea have, 14 featured in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, while eight of them played at the 18th Asian Games. Another player to look out for in the Korean faction would be Ki Sung-Yeung. He is their most experienced players with 108 internationals to his name. A set-piece specialist, yueng can play a pivotal role in organising the midfield and creating chances for his forwards.
However, all of this would not be easy for the Koreans, as Qatar has one of the best defences of the tournament. They have registered all four wins of their matches and are yet to concede a goal.
All eyes would be on their striker Almoez Ali who has found the net seven times in this edition. Another emerging talent in the Qatar faction is Akram Afif. The first player from Qatar to play for Villareal, Afif is an exciting midfielder to watch. He has 11 goals in 35 internationals for the Maroons.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES v AUSTRALIA:
Stadium: Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain - 20:00, January 25
Both UAE and Australia survived a tough round of 16 tussles against Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan respectively. The highlight of the fixture is it is the first time Asian Cup hosts and reigning champions lock horns since Japan met Vietnam in 2007.
Talking of Australia first, they one of the best goalkeepers of the Premier League, Mathew Ryan. And as the saying goes - strikers score goals but goalkeepers win you matches. Ryan is the Golden Glove winner from the previous edition and would look forth to putting up a great show against an unpredictable opponent. Another exciting name is Aaron Mooy. The Huddersfield midfielder will play a vital cog for the Socceroos to keep their title hope alive. His ability to create space and vision will give UAE defenders a tough time.
The hosts of Asian Cup 2019, UAE are the most unpredictable side of the tournament. Winning the round of 16 against Kyrgyzstan 3-2, the Whites would want to look into their defence if they fancy any chance to qualify to the last four. Ali Babkout is their marquee player. He holds the distinction of scoring the fastest goals in 14 seconds in the 2015 Asian Cup against Bahrain. He is strong and can run lightning fast, which will pose danger to the opponent's defensive line.
The teams had earlier met in the last edition’s semis, where Australia won 2-0. Alberto Zaccheroni’s men will be eager to even the score on Friday.