Asian Cup: Group A preview
One of Asia’s strongest nations since their introduction to the AFC, the 2011 Asian Cup runners-up, Australia, have their best chance yet to get their hands on the elusive piece of silverware. Playing at home and off the back of their third consecutive World Cup this is the chance to prove their worth.
Despite being expected to make it out of the group, they will have their work cut out progressing in top spot with the Korea Republic providing more than stern competition. The group’s Gulf countries, Oman and Kuwait, have each defeated Australia in recent years and will be aiming to cause an upset by knocking the two favourites off their perch.
How they got here: Australia sealed its spot in Asia’s premier international competition when it won the rights to host the tournament on its own patch in January 2011.
Key match: Notwithstanding many pundits’ predictions that the final match against Korea Republic will be the most pivotal in determining who progresses in top spot, it is arguably the Socceroos’ first match against Kuwait which will prove telling. An expectant home crowd coupled with the accompanying pressure that is on them rather than their lowly-rated opponents means Australia will need to be up to the mark to claim three points ahead of tougher tests to come.
Prediction: Once Asia’s highest FIFA ranked team, the hosts have endured a difficult period regrouping and rebuilding under former A-League coach Ange Postecoglou.
Australia’s World Cup performances, that split the opinion of many, were in many people’s eyes preparation for this tournament.
A myriad of players have been tried and tested over the past 12 months, and officials and fans alike have been patient with the new boss despite the meagre run of results thanks to an underperforming rear guard and strike force.
There remains nowhere else to hide now and as a result the home team should see a semi-final and potentially the final if they can hit their straps and receive the odd bit of assistance from Lady Luck.
How they got here: South Korea’s third place finish at the 2011 edition guaranteed they would qualify for 2015, courtesy of AFC rules, which state that the top three teams at the previous AFC Asian Cup automatically qualify.
Key match: The Taeguk Warriors’ clash with Australia in Brisbane looms likely to determine whether they will conquer Group A. By then, the tournament’s first winners would have liked to have collected four points at a minimum from their opening two matches, leaving them in control of their own destiny in the final blockbuster encounter.
Prediction: Uli Stelike will be looking to guide Korea Republic to winning their first Asian Cup since going back-to-back in 1956 and 1960 and bettering their third place finish in three of their previous Asian Cup appearances.
An underwhelming World Cup in Brazil, which saw them fail to win a match and finish bottom of their group, does not bode well for the team that has a lot of promise – at least on paper.
Their opposition this time around is conspicuously weaker and as a result, their squad boasting the likes of German-based stars Son Heung-min, Koo Ja-cheol, Kim Jin-su and Park Joo-ho, along with Ki Sung-Yueng and Lee Chung-Yong should propel the 69th FIFA ranked side to top spot. They will then like their chances in a very winnable quarter-final before making a push to go all the way.
How they got here: Al-Azraq traversed a tricky route to Australia, having snuck through ahead of Lebanon and Thailand in second spot despite their final day loss to Iran.
Key match: Kuwait will be looking to repeat the heroics of its 2009 side that trumped an albeit weakened Socceroos side 1-0 in an Asian Cup qualifier in Canberra.
It played with no fear on that day and may have to put a similar performance together in Melbourne to give it any hope of having something to play for come the final group game.
Prediction: Apart from having coach Jorvan Vieira among its ranks, the 1980 Asian Cup vanquisher has very little to show that it can replicate the feat of 25 years ago and cause what would be a major upset to reach the last eight.
Bader Al-Mutawa and Youssef Nasser hold the hopes of a nation on their shoulders, but inexperience and a poor run of form all points to an early exit from the tournament for Asia’s 15th ranked outfit.
Their inconsistency and unpredictable nature make them enjoyable to watch but, while they may exhibit some impressive football at times, it won’t be enough for them to reach the knockout round for the first time in 15 years.
How they got here: Oman edged out Jordan for top spot in a group that included Syria and Singapore.
Key match: The Red Warriors face the two most fancied teams of the group in their first two matches, making two points or more a must if they harbour hopes of progressing.
Australia’s inability to defeat them in their two latest spars in addition to their draw played out at the 2007 Asian Cup indicates that they do have the capacity to trip up the home side once again in Sydney.
Prediction: Omanis will be hoping that their third Asian Cup appearance will bear more fruit than their previous two that saw them eliminated in the Group Stage on eachoccasion.
Led by Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, and other experienced campaigners like Eid Al Farsi, Ahmed Mubarak and Ismail Al Ajmi, they will be buoyed by positive results in their past three matches at the Gulf Cup of Nations.
But their failure to regularly find the net will be their undoing and ensure that the world’s number 93 will miss out and ultimately finish in third place.