The AFC Asian Cup is just a few days away. Here we will look at the potential contenders for this year's cup.
Probably the biggest tournament in Asia, the AFC Asian Cup is set to start from 5 January and will end on 1 February 2019. This seventeenth edition of the cup will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates. This will be the first time when a total of 24 teams will participate. Hence ending the 16 team format which was in action since 2004. Australia is the defending champions going into this edition. The winner will earn a spot in the FIFA Confederations Cup 2021.
The 24 teams are divided into a total of 6 groups of 4 teams each. From which 16 teams will qualify for the next round. The 16 teams include top two sides from each group and the four best third-placed sides. The next round will be the knockout phase which is just like the Round of 16 phase of the FIFA World Cup.
In our build-up to the tournament, here are the top 5 contenders for the AFC Asian Cup 2019:
Iran: Iran is in the Group D of the tournament which comprises of Iraq, Vietnam, and Yemen. The side will be looking to add another title in their cabinet after three consecutive victories from 1968 to 1976. They will come into the tournament in the back of an impressive run in the FIFA World Cup 2018 where they beat Morocco, narrowly lost 1-0 to Spain and drew against Portugal. Just missing on the Round of 16 spots. In the 2015 edition of the cup, they lost in the quarter-final stage with a 3-3 (7-6 on penalties) defeat to Iraq. The most important player in the side will be Sardar Azmoun who has some years of European experience his belt. He plays in Russia and has netted against the likes of Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.
South Korea: South Korea is placed in Group C along with China, Kyrgyzstan, and the Philippines. They have won the tournament two times in 1956 and 1960. In the last edition, they lost 2-1 in extra-time to Australia in the final. The two-time champions have arguably been the best side in the tournament with 4 runner-ups and 4 third-place finishes under their belt. But the most significant achievement for the country has been the fourth spot finish in the FIFA World Cup 2002. Son Heung-Min will be the player to look out for. But the current Spurs forward is set to miss the first two matches against the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan. But this team has a lot of depth and will be thankful that their main man will be back in just about time before the knockout matches start.
Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia is in Group E which consist of Qatar, Lebanon, and North Korea. They have clinched the title on three different occasions in 1984, 1988 and 1996. Their most noticeable achievement in last year’s world cup was the 2-1 victory over Mohamed Salah led Egypt. In the 2015 edition, they finished third in the group with one win and two losses. Juan Martin Pizzi has taken over in October and under his reign, the team has shown some glimpses of what they can achieve. Abdullah Otayf will be their star man going into the 2019 edition.
Australia: Australia has been drawn in group B along with Syria, Palestine, and Jordan. This will be their fourth appearance in the tournament since their switch to AFC in 2007. They are the defending champions of the AFC Asian Cup and will look to retain the much-coveted cup. Despite their poor performance in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, they have regrouped well under new head coach Graham Arnold. And their recent performances will provide you with a hint of what this team is up to. They have defeated Kuwait, Lebanon, and Oman while also bagging an impressive 1-1 draw against South Korea. Mathew Leckie will be the most versatile outfield player in the team. He plays for the Hertha BSC side in Germany.
Japan: Japan is arguably the most successful side in Asia. They found themselves in Group F which consists of Uzbekistan, Oman, and Turkmenistan. They have won this tournament four times in 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2011. In the 2015 edition, they lost on penalties to UAE in the Quarter-final. They have quite an impressive run in the 2018 FIFA World Cup where they reached the Round of 16 stages. And were 2-0 up at one time against a strong Belgium side but ended up losing the game 2-3. Their star player will be Yuya Osako who had impressed everybody while playing as a lone striker in the team in Russia 2018. `
It will be fun to watch these sides in action and let's see who has the last laugh?