The 15th edition of the AFC Asian Cup gets underway this month from Qatar, who will also host the 2022 World Cup. In part three of A
Group C contains two World Cup veterans, Korea Republic and Australia. Having appeared at every World Cup since 1986, Cho Kwang-Rae’s South Korea are amongst the favourites to win the Asian Cup, a trophy that has eluded them since 1960. The Red Devils finished third in 2007 and have named an experienced squad, including Cha Du-Ri and Ki Sung-Yueng of Celtic and Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung. Kwang-Rae has been Coach since July 2010, when he replaced Huh Jung-Moo after the World Cup.
Australia also go into the Asian Cup under new management. After Pim Verbeek failed to take the Socceroos out of the group stage in South Africa, German Holger Osieck was appointed in August 2010. Quarter-finalists in 2007, their debut in the Asian Cup after joining the AFC in 2006, Australia will get Group C underway against India on January 10. The green and gold have strong Premier League representation, including Everton’s Tim Cahill and Mark Schwarzer of Fulham.
Experienced Coach Bob Houghton, formerly of Bristol City and Sweden’s Malmo, takes India into their second Asian Cup, the first since 1984. Houghton, formerly Coach of China, attempted to add Cardiff City’s Michael Chopra to the national team set-up but without the Newcastle-born striker, Houghton will eke a few more games out of 34-year-old former Bury forward Baichung Bhutia. India qualified for the Asian Cup by winning the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008.
Bahrain are the final team in Group C. The Red were named FIFA’s most improved team in 2004 and finished fourth in the 2004 Asian Cup but failed to get past the group stage in 2007. Coached by Salman Sharida, Bahrain’s squad includes 24-year-old midfielder Abdullah Omar of Switzerland’s Neuchatel Xamax amongst a number of home-based players.
Iraq, the war-torn country and fairytale victors of the 2007 Asian Cup, lead Group D. The Lions of Mesopotamia were guided to 2007 glory by Brazilian Jorvan Vieira, but it is German Coach Wolfgang Sidka who is now in charge. Sidka can call on a number of players from the 2007 triumph, including defender Ali Rehema, who played every minute of Iraq’s games during the competition four years ago. Rehema will be on familiar soil as one of a number of Iraqi players who play their league football in Qatar.
Korea DPR join Iraq in Group D, having qualified as winners of the AFC Challenge Cup in 2010. The secretive state made their second World Cup appearance in 2010 and have only made two prior Asian Cup appearances, in 1980 and 1992, finishing fourth in 1980 but failing to get past the group stage in 1992. It was at the World Cup that striker Jong Tae-Sae caught the eye, and the Bochum player is amongst the North Korean party again.
UAE are managed by Srecko Katanec, the experienced Coach who took Slovenia to World Cup 2002. Katanec has named a 23 picked from the UAE’s top clubs. The Gulf state has little recent Asian Cup pedigree, finishing fourth and second in consecutive tournaments in 1992 and 1996 respectively, but failing to progress from the group stage in either 2004 or 2007. The White face Korea DPR in Group D’s first game on January 11.
Iran are the final team of Group D. The Persian Stars are coached by Afshin Ghobti, a Coach with experience of the United States’ Major League Soccer and former assistant to Guus Hiddink with Korea Republic. Ghobti can call on a pair of midfielders with La Liga experience, Osasuna’s Javad Nekounam and Masoud Shojaei. Iran won the Asian Cup on three consecutive occasions between 1968 and 1976 but bowed out at the quarter-final stage in 2007.