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Asian Cup Preview: Favourites, Contenders, and Players to Watch

Asian Cup Preview: Favourites, Contenders, and Players to Watch

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As the 18th edition of the Asian Cup kicks off in a few days’ time, we will be covering the tournament with regular previews, round-ups, and articles of interest. First up, a comprehensive group-by-group preview of all the nations competing.


By Neel Shelat


Group A: 🇶🇦🇨🇳🇱🇧🇹🇯

As the hosts, and defending champions, Qatar will desperately want to give a good account of themselves just over a year on from a very disappointing FIFA World Cup campaign – also on home soil. They are not going into the tournament in the best of shape, though, having just sacked Carlos Queiroz less than a year into his tenure.

Tintín Márquez has been lifted mid-season from Qatar Stars League side Al-Wakrah, whom he has taken from being a lower-mid-table side to regular contenders for continental qualification in his nearly six-year tenure. This is his first job in international football, though, so he will be thrown in the deep end as his first competitive match in charge of the side will be the tournament opener.

For that reason, it is tough to predict how exactly Qatar might shape up. One thing is certain: they will rely on the quality of their attacking stars Akram Afif and Almoez Ali to deal damage to opponents. They should be strong enough to cruise through the group, but no one has high hopes for them in the knockouts.

China will likely be the other side to advance from this group even though they enter the tournament on a run of three straight defeats to South Korea, Oman, and Hong Kong. They were actually due to host the tournament initially, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused them to relinquish that opportunity.

Lebanon might have the potential to cause an upset on an off-day for one of the group favourites, but they are quite clearly underdogs. Tajikistan, the only debutantes at the tournament, will want to make an impression, and the nature of this group presents them with quite a good chance to do that.

Group B: 🇦🇺🇺🇿🇸🇾🇮🇳

On the back of a memorable run to the World Cup knockouts, 2015 Asian Cup champions Australia have to be considered among the strongest contenders at the tournament. The only question is how they might fare when asked to dominate matches with possession because they have seemed stronger when adopting a defence-first approach in Graham Arnold’s preferred 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 formation.

The Socceroos should have more than enough quality to power through the group, and if they make it to the later rounds of the knockouts, they are a side no one will want to face. In crunch matches like those, the defensive strength and solidity as well as the set-piece threat of centre-back Harry Souttar could prove decisive.

Uzbekistan will be a side to watch at this tournament as they have the potential to be dark horses. Their national team has been on an upward trajectory in the last five years and will continue to climb the FIFA rankings as their investment in the domestic league and local youth development facilities have seen their youngsters thoroughly impress at the recent Under-20 and Under-17 World Cups.

Syriaand India should be outmatched in this group, especially as their first two matches are against the top two. Of course, they will want to leave with their heads held high, with an added motivation for the Blue Tigers being the fact that this will be the last major tournament for legendary striker Sunil Chhetri.

Group C: 🇮🇷🇦🇪🇭🇰🇵🇸

There does not seem to be a lot of hype surrounding Iran, but they seem in strong shape to challenge for their first title since 1976. They are the second-highest-ranked team at the tournament coming in at #21 in the world.

Their attacking hopes will rest heavily on the very well-rounded FC Porto forward Mehdi Taremi, who has only scored three league goals this season, on the back of a 22-goal campaign last time out. Team Melli will hope to see him back to his best in Qatar.

Although they are ranked 64th in the world by FIFA, the United Arab Emirates should be considered outside contenders, at least, for what would be a first-ever Asian Cup title. They reached the semi-finals in each of the last two editions of the tournament but then fell short. Playing under Paulo Bento – a coach with a style of play suited to tournament football – they will hope to create history.

Hong Kong could be totally outclassed in this group as they are ranked 150th in the world, but their recent friendly win over China in the build-up to the tournament shows that they will certainly not lack fighting spirit. The same can be said of Palestine to a much higher degree, and they are sure to be universally supported in Qatar due to the war on Gaza. They have some notable quality in their squad too, most notably in the shape of Charleroi forward Oday Dabbagh, so they too cannot be completely written off.

Group D: 🇯🇵🇮🇩🇮🇶🇻🇳

Group D contains the clear favourites for the tournament: Japan. Not only are they the highest-ranked side in Asia, but they also have the strongest and most well-rounded squad as well as a manager who has worked with them for quite a while in Hajime Moriyasu. Anything short of a record-extending fifth title would be a disappointment.

Almost anyone in the Samurai Blue squad has the potential to be a key player, but we must give a special mention to Takefusa Kubo. Long billed as their most exciting talent, the now 22-year-old attacker has enjoyed a great season with Real Sociedad, so far, and will hope to finally play a starring role in his national team’s success.

Indonesia have gone on a bit of a recruitment spree lately, by convincing foreign-based dual nationals to join the national team, so they are somewhat stronger than their FIFA ranking of #146 would suggest. Iraq have also adopted a similar policy in the last couple of years and have what many are touting as their strongest-ever squad, with a significant contingent of players flying in from Scandinavia, and the lower tiers of Western European nations. So, they are the favourites to advance as the second team in the group.

This group might just end up having one of the best third-placed sides, which is what Vietnam might hope to be. Their recent run of results is not very encouraging, though, so they will want to be careful not to trip up against Indonesia.

Group E: 🇰🇷🇲🇾🇯🇴🇧🇭

South Korea are one of the strongest sides in Asia, so they have to be right up there when it comes to talk of favourites. Jürgen Klinsmann’s tenure did not get off to the best of starts, as he garnered criticism for his prolonged absence from the country during league action, which many saw as a sign of negligence. His end to 2023 could not have been better, though, as the Taegeuk Warriors ended the year with five straight wins and clean sheets, facing strong sides such as Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and China.

All eyes for them will be on Tottenham Hotspur captain Son Heung-min as he seeks to win his first major international trophy, but there is top-class quality all around the squad that can take them all the way.

Malaysia will be making their first appearance at an overseas Asian Cup in more than four decades, so there cannot be too many expectations on them. They too have recruited a good few dual nationals to build a pretty respectable squad, but the player to watch in their team must be young Arif Aiman, who is being touted as the hottest player in Malaysia right now.

Behind South Korea, second place in the group is quite open between Jordan and Bahrain, who also sit next to each other in the FIFA rankings. The former have some star quality in their squad – most notably in the form of Montpellier attacker Musa Al-Taamari – but Bahrain’s well-drilled collective of seasoned campaigners should not be underestimated.

Group F: 🇸🇦🇹🇭🇰🇬🇴🇲

Roberto Mancini’s first major tournament in charge of Saudi Arabia will only add to the global interest in football there, building on the Saudi Pro League boom. Of course, spending big to bring international stars into the league does not necessarily guarantee the improvement of the national team, but Saudi Arabia have always been contenders on the Asian stage, so even a small boost for them is significant.

Although they do have a number of talented younger players, the star of their show should still be Salem Al-Dawsari. Having forever etched his name into the history books with that memorable winning World Cup goal against Argentina, he has gone on to more than hold his own in the star-studded Al Hilal front line alongside the likes of Neymar, Aleksandar Mitrović and Malcolm.

Behind them, the group seems absolutely wide open so it is quite likely that three teams will progress from it. Thailand are the lowest-ranked side as far as FIFA are concerned and have had a very disrupted preparatory schedule, so they seem least likely to advance, although OH Leuven loanee Suphanat Mueanta might have something to say about that. Kyrgyzstan and Oman do not have any big-name stars, but their well-established and experienced squads should give everyone a tough fight – as they did in their most recent World Cup qualifier match which was decided by a solitary goal.


(Images from IMAGO)


You can follow every game from the Asian Cup 2023, with deep stats and players ratings, on FotMob. Download the free app here.

Asian Cup Preview: Favourites, Contenders, and Players to Watch

As the 18th edition of the Asian Cup kicks off in a few days’ time, we will be covering the tournament with regular previews, round-ups, and articles of interest. First up, a comprehensive group-by-group preview of all the nations competing.


By Neel Shelat


Group A: 🇶🇦🇨🇳🇱🇧🇹🇯

As the hosts, and defending champions, Qatar will desperately want to give a good account of themselves just over a year on from a very disappointing FIFA World Cup campaign – also on home soil. They are not going into the tournament in the best of shape, though, having just sacked Carlos Queiroz less than a year into his tenure.

Tintín Márquez has been lifted mid-season from Qatar Stars League side Al-Wakrah, whom he has taken from being a lower-mid-table side to regular contenders for continental qualification in his nearly six-year tenure. This is his first job in international football, though, so he will be thrown in the deep end as his first competitive match in charge of the side will be the tournament opener.

For that reason, it is tough to predict how exactly Qatar might shape up. One thing is certain: they will rely on the quality of their attacking stars Akram Afif and Almoez Ali to deal damage to opponents. They should be strong enough to cruise through the group, but no one has high hopes for them in the knockouts.

China will likely be the other side to advance from this group even though they enter the tournament on a run of three straight defeats to South Korea, Oman, and Hong Kong. They were actually due to host the tournament initially, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused them to relinquish that opportunity.

Lebanon might have the potential to cause an upset on an off-day for one of the group favourites, but they are quite clearly underdogs. Tajikistan, the only debutantes at the tournament, will want to make an impression, and the nature of this group presents them with quite a good chance to do that.

Group B: 🇦🇺🇺🇿🇸🇾🇮🇳

On the back of a memorable run to the World Cup knockouts, 2015 Asian Cup champions Australia have to be considered among the strongest contenders at the tournament. The only question is how they might fare when asked to dominate matches with possession because they have seemed stronger when adopting a defence-first approach in Graham Arnold’s preferred 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 formation.

The Socceroos should have more than enough quality to power through the group, and if they make it to the later rounds of the knockouts, they are a side no one will want to face. In crunch matches like those, the defensive strength and solidity as well as the set-piece threat of centre-back Harry Souttar could prove decisive.

Uzbekistan will be a side to watch at this tournament as they have the potential to be dark horses. Their national team has been on an upward trajectory in the last five years and will continue to climb the FIFA rankings as their investment in the domestic league and local youth development facilities have seen their youngsters thoroughly impress at the recent Under-20 and Under-17 World Cups.

Syriaand India should be outmatched in this group, especially as their first two matches are against the top two. Of course, they will want to leave with their heads held high, with an added motivation for the Blue Tigers being the fact that this will be the last major tournament for legendary striker Sunil Chhetri.

Group C: 🇮🇷🇦🇪🇭🇰🇵🇸

There does not seem to be a lot of hype surrounding Iran, but they seem in strong shape to challenge for their first title since 1976. They are the second-highest-ranked team at the tournament coming in at #21 in the world.

Their attacking hopes will rest heavily on the very well-rounded FC Porto forward Mehdi Taremi, who has only scored three league goals this season, on the back of a 22-goal campaign last time out. Team Melli will hope to see him back to his best in Qatar.

Although they are ranked 64th in the world by FIFA, the United Arab Emirates should be considered outside contenders, at least, for what would be a first-ever Asian Cup title. They reached the semi-finals in each of the last two editions of the tournament but then fell short. Playing under Paulo Bento – a coach with a style of play suited to tournament football – they will hope to create history.

Hong Kong could be totally outclassed in this group as they are ranked 150th in the world, but their recent friendly win over China in the build-up to the tournament shows that they will certainly not lack fighting spirit. The same can be said of Palestine to a much higher degree, and they are sure to be universally supported in Qatar due to the war on Gaza. They have some notable quality in their squad too, most notably in the shape of Charleroi forward Oday Dabbagh, so they too cannot be completely written off.

Group D: 🇯🇵🇮🇩🇮🇶🇻🇳

Group D contains the clear favourites for the tournament: Japan. Not only are they the highest-ranked side in Asia, but they also have the strongest and most well-rounded squad as well as a manager who has worked with them for quite a while in Hajime Moriyasu. Anything short of a record-extending fifth title would be a disappointment.

Almost anyone in the Samurai Blue squad has the potential to be a key player, but we must give a special mention to Takefusa Kubo. Long billed as their most exciting talent, the now 22-year-old attacker has enjoyed a great season with Real Sociedad, so far, and will hope to finally play a starring role in his national team’s success.

Indonesia have gone on a bit of a recruitment spree lately, by convincing foreign-based dual nationals to join the national team, so they are somewhat stronger than their FIFA ranking of #146 would suggest. Iraq have also adopted a similar policy in the last couple of years and have what many are touting as their strongest-ever squad, with a significant contingent of players flying in from Scandinavia, and the lower tiers of Western European nations. So, they are the favourites to advance as the second team in the group.

This group might just end up having one of the best third-placed sides, which is what Vietnam might hope to be. Their recent run of results is not very encouraging, though, so they will want to be careful not to trip up against Indonesia.

Group E: 🇰🇷🇲🇾🇯🇴🇧🇭

South Korea are one of the strongest sides in Asia, so they have to be right up there when it comes to talk of favourites. Jürgen Klinsmann’s tenure did not get off to the best of starts, as he garnered criticism for his prolonged absence from the country during league action, which many saw as a sign of negligence. His end to 2023 could not have been better, though, as the Taegeuk Warriors ended the year with five straight wins and clean sheets, facing strong sides such as Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and China.

All eyes for them will be on Tottenham Hotspur captain Son Heung-min as he seeks to win his first major international trophy, but there is top-class quality all around the squad that can take them all the way.

Malaysia will be making their first appearance at an overseas Asian Cup in more than four decades, so there cannot be too many expectations on them. They too have recruited a good few dual nationals to build a pretty respectable squad, but the player to watch in their team must be young Arif Aiman, who is being touted as the hottest player in Malaysia right now.

Behind South Korea, second place in the group is quite open between Jordan and Bahrain, who also sit next to each other in the FIFA rankings. The former have some star quality in their squad – most notably in the form of Montpellier attacker Musa Al-Taamari – but Bahrain’s well-drilled collective of seasoned campaigners should not be underestimated.

Group F: 🇸🇦🇹🇭🇰🇬🇴🇲

Roberto Mancini’s first major tournament in charge of Saudi Arabia will only add to the global interest in football there, building on the Saudi Pro League boom. Of course, spending big to bring international stars into the league does not necessarily guarantee the improvement of the national team, but Saudi Arabia have always been contenders on the Asian stage, so even a small boost for them is significant.

Although they do have a number of talented younger players, the star of their show should still be Salem Al-Dawsari. Having forever etched his name into the history books with that memorable winning World Cup goal against Argentina, he has gone on to more than hold his own in the star-studded Al Hilal front line alongside the likes of Neymar, Aleksandar Mitrović and Malcolm.

Behind them, the group seems absolutely wide open so it is quite likely that three teams will progress from it. Thailand are the lowest-ranked side as far as FIFA are concerned and have had a very disrupted preparatory schedule, so they seem least likely to advance, although OH Leuven loanee Suphanat Mueanta might have something to say about that. Kyrgyzstan and Oman do not have any big-name stars, but their well-established and experienced squads should give everyone a tough fight – as they did in their most recent World Cup qualifier match which was decided by a solitary goal.


(Images from IMAGO)


You can follow every game from the Asian Cup 2023, with deep stats and players ratings, on FotMob. Download the free app here.