News ID: 236831
Published: 0349 GMT January 04, 2019

Asian Cup to take center stage at UAE

Asian Cup to take center stage at UAE

Sports Desk

The 17th edition of the AFC Asian Cup kicks off on Saturday in the UAE with the host country playing Bahrain in a Group A opener at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

Asian football is set for its biggest-ever showpiece as 24 nations, for the first time, will battle it out for the trophy in four host cities of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain and Sharjah for the next 28 days.

A star-studded tournament will see some of the biggest coaches in the world of football looking to add to their list of honors.

The Portuguese Carlos Queiroz and Italian Alberto Zaccheroni will surely fancy their chances of lifting the trophy with Iran and the UAE on February 1, while the Argentine Hector Cuper, Swedish Sven-Goran Eriksson and Italian World Cup winner Marcelo Lippi will also aim to make their mark as the trio will lead Uzbekistan, the Philippines and China in the tournament, respectively.

Japan, South Korea, Australia and Iran are the regular contenders to win the Asia’s top football prize.

Only the last of that quartet still has the same coach in the UAE as it had in last summer’s World Cup in Russia.

With Queiroz's eight years in charge of Iran likely to come to an end after the competition, the Portuguese boss would love nothing more than to deliver a first Asian title since 1976.

The Iranians have only lost one competitive game since the last Asian Cup in 2015, and that came against Spain in Russia.

Brighton and Hove Albion’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Rubin Kazan’s Sardar Azmoun will lead the team going forward, but Iran’s main strength will be in defense.

Having probably the best Asian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and a defensive duo of Morteza Pouraliganji and Majid Hosseini at his disposal, Queiroz has created such a solid and organized backline that even Spain and Portugal found it hard to break down.

Additionally, following an impressive run in Russia, Japan’s Coach Hajima Moriyasu, who is yet to taste defeat with the Blue Samurai, has rejuvenated his squad ahead of their trip to the UAE.

Gone from the team are veterans such a Keisuke Honda (retired), Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki. Instead the next generation will be given a chance to shine, starting with a forward trio of Shoya Nakajima, Takumi Minamino and Ritsu Doan. The Asian Cup will prove if Moriyasu has made the right call.

South Korea is undefeated after six matches under new coach Paulo Bento, who led Portugal to the Euro 2012 semifinals. Bento has given the team a long-awaited revamp, returning South Korea to an attack-minded force after years of uninspiring, conservative tactics.

Star man Son Heung-min, however, is expected to meet up with his teammates after the group stages.

Defending champion Australia may not have won a game or scored a goal from open play at the World Cup, but the Socceroos are aiming to defend their crown under new coach Graham Arnold.

The retirement of inspirational captain Mile Jedinak and injuries to influential players such as Aaron Mooy, Mathew Leckie and Daniel Arzani could cruel their chances, however.

Three-time champion Saudi Arabia, 2007 champion Iraq, the UAE, Syria and Qatar, meanwhile, are all capable of causing a shock and playing a part in the final in Abu Dhabi’s ZSC Stadium.



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