Dez Corkhill: 2015 Asian Cup Preview [Part 3]


The previous section leads us nicely to the teams most likely to struggle on Australian soil at the 16th Asian Cup. The last two winners of the AFC Challenge Cup – Palestine and North Korea – are in this category.

There’s no denying that it’s a great human interest story for Palestine to qualify. And there were scenes of joy when they did secure a place in Australia. And subsequent victories in India and Vietnam have proven that the team – backstopped by veteran Goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh – should not be taken lightly. In Ashraf Nu’man – who plays his football in Saudi Arabia for Al Faisaly – they have a striker with the respectable strike rate of a goal every three games. However, Saeb Jendeya’s squad are probably better judged in their last three away matches during which they were unable to score in defeats to Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and a goalless draw in China. Expect doughty defence, and ultimate elimination, from a Group containing Iraq, Jordan and Japan.

Similarly North Korea, who qualified for the Tournament by winning the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup, will be a side who will be obdurate defensively, but may find scoring goals at this level of competition somewhat more difficult. In their build up matches, they scored just twice in 5 games at the time of writing). And this despite recording a 100% record in the AFC Challenge Cup. Star names are two of their five foreign based players – Jong Tae-Se who plays in South Korea, and Thai based midfielder Pak nam-Chol. Goalkeeper Ri Mong-Gok is occasionally spectacular.

Until their 4-1 beating of Saudi just before the New Year, Bahrain were clear candidates for the cannon fodder category. Perhaps China and they could swap places, but I’ll stick with the original selection. Bahrain rely so much on Fauzi Aish for their creativity that  decent teams surely must be able to stop them. Stoker Ismael Abdulateef can be potent. But if a non-football man can see how important Fauzi Aish is, then surely the coaches of Bahrain’s group opponents can as well. Like Uzbekistan, Bahrain have overachieved – massively – for a decade, and a truer indication of their level is their wretched performance at the 2014 Gulf Cup.

Kuwait invariably qualify for the Asian Cup Finals, and then fail to deliver on the big stage. An over reliance for goals on Qadsia’s pacy striker Bader Al Mutawa undermines often nice football from the Kuwaitis. Another whose poor showing in the recent Gulf Cup of Nations may undermine the confidence of a squad that is ageing together.


Youth is the key for two of the Nations who may yet spring a surprise in Australia 2015.

2007 Champions IRAQ have a team is predominantly the side who originally did well in the under 23 Olympic Qualifiers. Dhirgam Ismail being the best of a crop of youngsters who were then thrown into the World Cup Qualifiers, and did well.

When you combine the youthful talent with the talismanic performances of captain and top scorer, Younis Mahmood, a place in the last four is a possibility, though a repeat of that fairytale and stunning 2007 triumph in Jakarta probably beyond the group.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES predominantly home based squad had a great run at the 2014 Gulf Cup – beaten only late on in the semifinals by Saudi Arabia. Subsequent wins over Jordan and Oman in the build-up to the Tournament will only enhance their confidence. As will the return from injury of Al Ain play-maker, Omar Abdul Rahman.

Iran, Bahrain and Qatar are the other members of the all West Asian Group for the UAE. But if one nation is capable of upsetting the group favourites, it may well be the UAE.

Realistically, this is the best chance OMAN will have for a number of years to make an impact at Asian football’s top table. With the spine of the team occupied by the experienced Ali Al Habsi in-goal, Hassan Mudhafer at the back, Ahmad Mubarak in midfield and Ahmad Al-Hosni up front, they have the personnel to cause upsets. Witness the explosive 5-0 mauling of Kuwait in the Gulf Cup.

But the spine are also all also what you might call “veterans”. Mubarak will turn 30 in February, and he’s the youngster. But they can be explosive and fun to watch.

As can JORDAN who built on their quarter-final berth at the 2011 Asian Cup to become surprise qualifiers from Asia to the play-off stage for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Once there, the Jordanians were exposed by Uruguay, but in Abdullah Deeb there is a genuine threat going forward, and goalkeeper Amer Shafi – whilst unpredictable – is capable of brilliance.

A run of 9 matches without a win since qualifying for the Asian Cup will have hurt confidence. But the experience garnered in the World Cup matches may hold them in good stead. Doubtful. But possible.


Names to Watch:
Nasser Al Shamrani (Saudi Arabia), Tomi Juric (Australia), Ki Sung Yeung (Korea Republic), Ahmad Khalil (UAE), Abdullah Deeb (Jordan)

Last Hurrah, with thanks:
Saud Khahriri (Saudi Arabia), Javed Nekounam (Iran), Zheng Zhi (China) Endo (Japan), Younis Mahmoud (Iraq)

Quarter Finals:
Australia, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Qatar, UAE, Iraq

And the Winner Will Be:


Part One of the Asian Cup Preview

Part Two of the Asian Cup Preview

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