Asian Cup preview – Part two: Group A and Group B

The 15th edition of the AFC Asian Cup gets underway this month from Qatar, who will also host the 2022 World Cup. In part two of A Different League’s preview of the tournament we will look at the teams that make up Group A – Qatar, Kuwait, China PR and Uzbekistan – and Group B – Saudi Arabia, Japan, Jordan and Syria.

Qatar, seeded as hosts, lead a competitive Group A. Coached by Bruno Metsu, who led Senegal to victory over France at World Cup 2002, the Qataris’ 23-man squad includes 22 players who ply their trade in the Gulf state – the only name from abroad, Hussein Yasser, plays for Zamalek of Egypt and had a brief spell at Manchester City in 2006. Metsu can also call on the services of Yusuf Ahmed, the 22-year-old captain and record goal scorer.

Uzbekistan boast a dangerous strike force in Maksim Shatskikh, scorer of 32 goals in 52 games, and Alexander Geynirkh, who has 22 in 58. The White Wolves, coached by Vadim Abramov, have never qualified for the World Cup – indeed, only Kuwait and China PR have reached the World Cup from the teams in Group A, in 1982 and 2002 respectively. Uzbekistan meet Qatar in the competition’s first game on January 7.

China, despite being the world’s most populous nation, have a chequered history in the Asian Cup. Twice finishing runners-up in 1984 and 2004, the Great Wall failed to get out of their group in the 2007 competition, placing third in a foursome also containing Uzbekistan. Coach Gao Hongbo has selected a mostly-home based squad, with only Schalke 04’s Hao Junmin playing outside China. It is also a young squad, with no players over the age of 29 amongst the group.

Kuwait’s Serbian Coach Goran Tufegdzic has similarly named an overwhelmingly domestic squad, with most players in their mid-20s and just a handful based outside the country. Having failed to qualify for the tournament in 2007, Kuwait are aiming to rediscover the success of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the side were runners-up in 1976, winners in 1980 and third-placed in 1984.

Saudi Arabia are the seeded team of Group B and Jose Peseiro’s side are one the Asian Confederation’s most successful sides. Three-time winners of the Asian Cup – finishing second on as many occasions – the Green Falcons also qualified for four consecutive World Cups between 1994 and 2006. Peseiro will rely on striker and captain Yasser Al-Qahtani, who interested Sven-Goran Eriksson at Manchester City, to deliver a first Asian Cup trophy since 1996. Like many of their competitors, Saudi Arabia’s squad is entirely home based.

Bucking the trend, Japan’s 23 is drawn from across the footballing world, with clubs throughout Europe represented as well as Japan itself. Led by former Milan Coach Alberto Zaccheroni, the Blue Samurai’s hopes may rest on talented midfielders Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow and Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa. Much responsibility will also rest on the shoulders of a third midfielder, Yasuhito Endo, just 30 but already capped 100 times.

Jordan, in only their second Asian Cup appearance, are another squad comprised mainly of domestic-based players. Iraqi Coach Adnan Hamed has called up 18 players from Jordanian clubs, with the remaining five coming from group rivals Syria and Saudi Arabia, and Odai Al-Saify from Alki Larnaca of Cyprus. Al-Saify is one of Jordan’s main goal threats, with 15 strikes in 32 games. Japan vs. Jordan gets Group B under way on January 9.

Syria are the final nation in Group B. The Qasioun Eagles have little Asian Cup pedigree, having failed to make it past the group stage in four attempts. Romanian Coach Valeriu Tita has included prolific Firas Al-Khatib, scorer of 25 goals in 49 games.

Later this week, part three will look at the teams of Group C and Group D.

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