Everything you need to know about the 2015 Asian Cup

Ahead of the January 9 start to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia, Ali Khaled provides a guide to the tournament with Asia's most coveted trophy on offer.
UAE fans attend an Asian Cup qualifying match against Vietnam in Abu Dhabi in November 2013. Pawan Singh / The National / November 19, 2013
UAE fans attend an Asian Cup qualifying match against Vietnam in Abu Dhabi in November 2013. Pawan Singh / The National / November 19, 2013

Ahead of the January 9 start to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, Ali Khaled provides a guide to the tournament being held in Australia, where the UAE will be among the teams with big ambitions.

What: AFC Asian Cup

When: January 9-31

Where: Australia

How it works: Sixteen teams are divided into four groups, with the matches taking place across five cities – Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Newcastle and Brisbane. The top two from each group progress to the quarter-finals.

History: Last 10 Winners – 1976 Iran; 1980 Kuwait; 1984 Saudi Arabia; 1988 Saudi Arabia; 1992 Japan; 1996 Saudi Arabia; 2000 Japan; 2004 Japan; 2007 Iraq; 2011 Japan. Most Wins – Japan 4 (1992, 2000, 2004, 2011).

Venues:

Stadium Australia, Sydney

Also known as: Anz Stadium or Olympic Stadium

Opened: 1999

Capacity: 83,500

Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne

Also known as: AAMI Park

Opened: 2010

Capacity: 30,000

Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane

Also known as: Lang Park or Suncorp Stadium

Opened: 1914

Capacity: 52, 500

Canberra Stadium, Canberra

Also known as: GIO Stadium Canberra

Opened: 1977

Capacity: 25,000

Newcastle Stadium, Newcastle

Also known as: Hunter Stadium

Opened: 1970

Capacity: 33,000

Group A

Australia

Manager: Ange Postecoglou. Took over as the coach of the host nation from Holger Osieck last year, and oversaw what many agreed was a gallant effort at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. However, expectations will be far higher at home.

Key player: Mile Jedinak. Captain at the World Cup, the tough midfielder is having a fine season with Crystal Palace, and his leadership under pressure will be needed as a nation demands success.

Best finish: Finalists, 2011.

Last time out: Finalists, lost 1-0 to Japan.

Prospects for 2014: The home fans will expect nothing less than a place in the final. Despite some poor results in recent friendlies, the team showed they can compete with the best at the World Cup, albeit without picking up any points. The Socceroos will never have a better chance to win their first Asian Cup.

South Korea

Manager: Uli Stielike. Another coach fresh in the hot seat, the German was confirmed as South Korea’s new coach in September. His first four friendlies saw two wins and two losses, so the jury is still out.

Key player: Ki Sung-yueng. The 25-year-old Swansea City man has big tournament experience having played in the last two World Cups and the 2011 Asian Cup, and has blossomed into an influential figure in midfield for both club and country.

Best finish: Champions, 1956, 1960.

Last time out: Semi-finals, lost 3-2 to Japan.

Prospects for 2014: Knocked out in the semi-finals in three of the last four Asian Cup competitions, South Korea will again expect to reach the last four and will hope to go one better this time.

Oman

Manager: Paul Le Guen. The Frenchmen led Oman to the semi-finals of the recent Gulf Cup in Saudi Arabia, on the way sensationally beating Kuwait 5-0. After three years in the job, Omanis are still split over his suitability to lead the country.

Key player: Abdulaziz Al Muqbali. While Ali Al Habsi remains the country’s enduring leader on and off the pitch, the 25-year-old striker, a two-goal hero in that win against Kuwait, will be the man tasked with scoring the goals at the other end.

Best finish: Group stage, 2004, 2007.

Last time out: Did not qualify.

Prospects for 2014: Could not have had worse group. Their recent thrashing of Kuwait may offer a glimmer of hope, but Australia and South Korea should prove too strong for the Omanis.

Kuwait

Manager: Nabil Maaloul. Kuwait performed dismally at the Gulf Cup, which cost Jorvan Vieira his job. The Tunisian was only confirmed as the new coach last month, and another failure can hardly be blamed on him.

Key player: Bader Al Mutawa. One of the few Kuwaiti players to distinguish themselves in Riyadh. His performance, and stunning equaliser, in the 2-2 draw with UAE showed that, at 29, he is still one of his country’s most reliable players.

Best finish: Champions, 1980.

Last time out: Group stage.

Prospects for 2014: After a poor Gulf Cup in November, there will be little confidence they will improve on their performances four years ago. Another group stage exit beckons.

Group A Matches

January 9 – Australia v Kuwait, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium

January 10 – South Korea v Oman, Canberra Stadium

January 13 – Kuwait v South Korea, Canberra Stadium

January 13 – Oman v Australia, Stadium Australia, Sydney

January 17 – Australia v South Korea, Brisbane Stadium

January 17 – Oman v Kuwait, Newcastle Stadium

Group B

Uzbekistan

Manager: Mirjalol Qosimov. Led Uzbekistan to a two-legged World Cup AFC qualifying play-off with Jordan, which they lost on penalties. Two years into the job, has continued to deliver results that have seen the country ranked third in Asia.

Key player: Odel Ahmedov. The former Anzhi Makhachkala man joined FC Krasnodar this summer after being linked with several top European sides. A no-nonsense midfield player, he is also known for scoring some spectacular goals.

Best finish: Semi-finals, 2011.

Last time out: Semi-finals, lost 6-0 to Australia.

Prospects for 2014: A recent 4-0 win over the UAE in Dubai showed a team in excellent form. A place in the semi-finals is a reachable target.

Saudi Arabia

Manager: Cosmin Olaroiu. The just-appointed Romanian arrives having won three Arabian Gulf League titles – two with Al Ain and one last season with Al Ahli, whom Saudi Arabia pried Olaroiu from. With his side languishing in sixth this season, though, he has jumped ship to the talented Saudi national side.

Key player: Nasser Al Shamrani. The Al Hilal player was one of Saudi’s standout players at the Gulf Cup, and has been named 2014 Asian Footballer of the Year. On the downside he disgraced himself after Al Hilal’s Asian Champions League loss by spitting on Matthew Spiranovic of Western Sydney Wanderers. Saudi will need him on his best behaviour and form.

Best finish: Champions, 1984, 1988, 1996.

Last time out: Group stages.

Prospects for 2014: Despite some genuine talent upfront, the last eight could be the extent of their ambitions. Have not shown enough to suggest they are back among the continent’s elite.

China

Manager: Alain Perrin. Appointed as head coach in February, he has mainly been in charge of a series of friendlies over the last 10 months. Has brought solidity to the team.

Key player: Wu Lei. The midfielder became a sensation when he made his league debut for Shanghai East Asia at the age of 14. Now 23, the man nicknamed the “Chinese Maradona” will be hoping a better return of goals could help see his country through the group stage.

Best finish: Finalists, 2004.

Last time out: Group stage.

Prospects for 2014: The Dragons recently went on an eight-match unbeaten run. If they pick up points in their first two matches, the final group match against North Korea could well see them progress to the last eight.

North Korea

Manager: Yun Jong-su. The 52-year-old will be banned from the dressing room and anywhere pitch side after receiving a one-year ban by the AFC for an outburst against a match official after the 1-0 defeat to South Korea in the Asian Games final in Incheon in October.

Key player: Jong Tae-se. The former Bochum and Cologne striker now plays for Suwon Samsung Bluewings in South Korea, and is one of his country’s most experienced players having taken part in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Best finish: Fourth place, 1980.

Last time out: Group stage.

Prospects for 2014: A poor run of form in recent friendlies does not bode well, and the outsiders should once again exit at the group stage.

Group B Matches

January 10 – Uzbekistan v North Korea, Stadium Australia, Sydney

January 10 – Saudi Arabia v China, Brisbane Stadium

January 14 – North Korea v Saudi Arabia, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium

January 14 – China v Uzbekistan, Brisbane Stadium

January 18 – Uzbekistan v Saudi Arabia, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium

January 18 – China v North Korea, Canberra Stadium


Group C

Iran

Manager: Carlos Queiroz. Came within seconds of leading Iran to a memorable 0-0 draw with Argentina at the 2014 World Cup, and has generally overseen consistent results since taking over three years ago. Will be confident of success.

Key player: Though captain Javad Nekounam remains an imposing figure, Al Arabi’s Ashkan Dejagah proved to be Iran’s most dynamic player at the World Cup in Brazil. The former Hertha Berlin, Wolfsburg and Fulham player’s presence in midfield will be central to his country’s chances of lifting the cup.

Best finish: Champions, 1968, 1972, 1976.

Last time out: Quarter-finals, lost 1-0 to South Korea.

Prospects for 2014: Potential champions. Iran performed well only sporadically at the World Cup; in Asia, where they are the top-ranked team, they remain a formidable force.

UAE

Manager: Mahdi Ali. Has consistently maintained that a place in the last four in Australia is his main target. With a settled squad that has bought into his methods, confidence remains high in him despite failure to defend the Gulf Cup in Riyadh.

Key player: Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil always seem to deliver for Mahdi Ali when they are needed most, but few will debate that Omar Abdulrahman remains the UAE’s best hope of success. Simply, when fit and on form, one of Asia’s finest players.

Best finish: Losing finalists, 1996.

Last time out: Group stage.

Prospects for 2014: A place in the last eight is the minimum requirement. A semi-final spot however could rest on whether the UAE win the group or finish second.

Qatar

Manager: Djamel Belmadi. The former Algeria international and Lekhwiya manager’s stock has never been higher in Qatar. Despite attracting criticism in the early matches of the Gulf Cup, led the country to their first title on foreign soil.

Key player: Boualem Khoukhi. Followed up his six goals at the 2014 West Asian Championships with excellent performances at the Gulf Cup, scoring a spectacular winner against Saudi Arabia in the final.

Best finish: Quarter-finals, 2000, 2011.

Last time out: Quarter-finals, lost 3-2 to Japan.

Prospects for 2014: Suddenly much brighter. The Gulf Cup champions will now fancy their chances to progress from a very tough group, although a place in the last four could prove a step too far.

Bahrain

Manager: Marjan Eid. The assistant coach replaced the Iraqi Adnan Hamad in November, who was sacked after the first two matches of the Gulf Cup. Eid will know the players well but cannot be expected to turn the situation around in such a short period.

Key player: Mohammed Salmeen. At 34, the captain is one of Bahrain’s most experienced players and his influence will once again be needed if the team is to recover from their Gulf Cup disappointment.

Best finish: Semi-final, 2004.

Last time out: Group stage.

Prospects for 2014: Would be a major surprise if they do not finish bottom of the group.

Group C Matches

January 11 – UAE v Qatar, Canberra Stadium

January 11 – Iran v Bahrain, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium

January 15 – Bahrain v UAE, Canberra Stadium

January 15 – Qatar v Iran, Stadium Australia, Sydney

January 19 – Iran v UAE, Brisbane Stadium

January 19 – Qatar v Bahrain, Stadium Australia, Sydney

Group D

Japan

Manager: Javier Aguirre. The Mexican has only been in charge a matter of months but will have little margin for error as Japan look to defend their title. Has match-fixing allegations in Spain hanging over him.

Key player: Keisuke Honda. Player of the tournament four years ago in Qatar, the AC Milan forward will once again carry the nation’s hopes alongside Shinji Okazaki of German club Mainz and Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa.

Best finish: Champions, 1992, 2000, 2004, 2011.

Last time out: Champions, defeated Australia 1-0 in Final.

Prospects for 2014: Among the favourites for the title, and with squad full of experienced players from across Europe’s leagues, expect at least a place in the last four.

Jordan

Manager: Ray Wilkins. The appointment of the Englishman was unexpected, as he does not have a glowing managerial CV nor experience in Asian football. Failure to hit the ground running could see a quick exit.

Key player: Amer Deeb. With so many young players in the squad, the captain’s experience, and goals, will be required if Jordan are to progress from the group.

Best finish: Quarter-finals, 2004, 2011.

Last time out: Quarter-finals, lost 2-1 to Uzbekistan.

Prospects for 2014: Should win the “derby” against Palestine, and the continent’s fifth-ranked team will fancy themselves to overcome an inconsistent Iraq. A quarter-final spot is there for the taking.

Iraq

Manager. Radhi Shenaishil. The coach, 48, has been loaned by Qatar Sports Club to coach his home country for the duration of the tournament. The former Iraqi international had managed the team briefly in 2009.

Key player: Ahmed Yasin. Dubbed the Iraqi Cristiano Ronaldo, the left winger, who plays in the Swedish league with Orebro SK, will once again be tasked with being Iraq’s main creative force.

Best finish: Champions, 2007.

Last time out: Quarter-finals, lost to 1-0 to Australia.

Prospects for 2014: Repeating the success of 2007, a miracle in itself, is highly unlikely. Would be happy with last eight spot.

Palestine

Manager: Saeb Jendeya. Took over as interim coach from Jamal Mahmoud in early September. The 39-year-old former Palestine captain should have virtually no pressure on him, with little expected of the first-time participants.

Key player: Ashraf Numan. The captain, and inspiration behind the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup win that led to qualification to Australia 2015. His tournament-high four goals, including the winner over the Philippines in the final, confirmed the man who plays up front for Saudi club Al Faisaly as Palestine’s most influential player.

Best finish: Never qualified before.

Last time out: Did not qualify.

Prospects for 2014: Qualification to the finals was an achievement in itself. Will enjoy pitting themselves against Asia’s best but hard to see them causing any upsets.

Group D Matches

January 12 – Japan v Palestine, Newcastle Stadium

January 12 – Jordan v Iraq, Brisbane Stadium

January 16 – Palestine v Jordan, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium

January 16 – Iraq v Japan, Brisbane Stadium

January 20 – Japan v Jordan, Melbourne rectangular Stadium

January 20 – Iraq v Palestine, Canberra Stadium

Knockout round schedule:

Quarter-finals

January 22, QF1 – Winner Group A v Runner-up Group B, Melbourne

January 22, QF2 – Winner Group B v Runner-up A, Brisbane

January 23, QF3 – Winner Group C v Runner-up Group D, Canberra

January 23, QF4 – Winner Group D v Runner-up Group C, Sydney

Semi-finals

January 26, Winner QF1 v Winner QF3, Sydney

January 27, Winner QF2 v Winner of QF4, Newcastle

Third place play-off

January 30, Newcastle

Final

January 31, Sydney

Follow us on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 16, 2014 04:00 AM

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