We asked four Soccerphile writers for their picks for the 2011 Asian Cup, which kicks off today.
First Seoul-based K-League cognoscente John Duerden: It’s an open competition but I have a feeling for Saudi Arabia.
This is a team that could either do terribly or go all the way. For a change, the coach stayed after failing to qualify for the World Cup and there is an unusual sense of stability around the team, something that has been lacking for years. Also do well in West Asia and have reached six of the last seven finals. Hardly ever mentioned as favourites but they are ready to slip in under the radar.
Just like Iran, who are also dangerous, Togel Online missing out on the World Cup has focused minds, given the team 18 months to prepare for this and a thirst to prove their worth.
Australian soccer expert Marc Fox: Just like four years ago I think it will be pretty open … even predicting the winners of the groups is a tough call. But I think South Korea might prove strong enough this time if they can find enough goals.
UK-based Premiership pundit Andy Greeves: On the back of their strong performance at last summer’s World Cup, I’m tipping Japan to win the 2011 Asian Cup.
Keisuke Honda was a revelation in South Africa and I can see him being a stand out performer once again at this tournament. I’m also a big fan of Yasuhito Endo in their midfield, who could do a job in any league around the world. Alberto Zaccheroni’s squad has a very nice blend of youth and experience and crucially in Shinji Okazaki, they have a proven goalscorer who can fire them to victory.
Outside of Japan, I’m going to be very predicatable and say that South Korea and Australia would be my other favourites. I see Saudi Arabia as dark horses – they should get out of Group B along with Japan and could go on a decent run after that. You can never rule out the hosts at big tournaments either and for that reason, think Qatar have got half a chance on home soil too.
From a European perspective, I’m interested to see which players manage to put themselves in the shop window at the Asian Cup. Since the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, we have seen an increased influx of players from the Asian Football Confederation to the English Premier League and elsewhere in the continent. Can’t wait for more talent to be uncovered at this competition.
Finally, J-League guru and Asian football-specialist Mike Tuckerman: I’m going to go out on a limb and say Iran. They’re struggling for form and are in arguably the toughest group, but I just think they’re due and things may click for the departing Afshin Ghotbi in Qatar.
I can’t see Japan winning it with a relatively new-look squad, especially with impending club transfers hanging over a few players.
South Korea might struggle for goals without Park Chu-young, while Australia are slow at the back and susceptible to teams with pace. They’ll probably run into Iran in the quarter-finals too, and I just feel like everything might fall into place for Team Melli and they’ll end up with the trophy.
Find the latest Asian Cup odds at Bet 365, which has LIVE STREAMING of the Asian Cup matches.