Byline Banter: Asian Cup edition

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So ends another crazy Christmas/New Year period with the A-League providing a welcome distraction from family and friends. But despite 15 matches taking place in 11 days, it’s as-you-were on the ladder.

But with the A-League on a break for the next three weeks thanks to the AFC Asian Cup, now is as good a time as ever to take a look at the main contenders to be crowned Champions of Asia.

The best teams in our region head into the tournament looking to prove that football in Asia can stand up to that of the rest of the world after all the Asian teams to qualify for the 2014 World Cup placed last in their respective groups.

Coincidentally, Japan, South Korea, Iran and Australia – the countries that qualified for the World Cup – are the nation’s most likely to take out the title and claim bragging rights in Asia until 2019.

Japan is the team that will have Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou most worried, coming off the back of some impressive lead in performances including 2-1 victory over Australia and a 6-0 demolishing of Honduras.

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Leading into the competition there was speculation the Blue Samurai would make a coaching change after Mexican boss Javier Aguirre became embroiled in an alleged match fixing case in Spain relating to a 2010-11 La Liga match, but the former Athletico Madrid boss looks set to remain at the helm.

Japan will start their campaign against Palestine in Newcastle on Monday night and with AC Milan playmaker Keisuke Honda, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa and Japan’s most capped player Yasuhitto Endo in their ranks anything less than the crown would be a missed opportunity.

South Korea are also looming as a serious threat for the title and pose an early test for the Socceroos with both teams drawing Group A.

1960 was the last time The Reds lifted the Asian Cup and their lead in form has also been an issue with Real Madrid legend Uli Stielike’s men failing to secure back-to-back wins in 2014 and were dusted up 4-0 by Ghana.

However with the likes of former Arsenal forward Park Chu-young and Bayer Leverkusen wide man Son Heung-win at his disposal Stielike will have the two-time Asian Cup winners ready to go deep into the tournament.

Iran may well prove to be the best of the roughies if one was is inclined to throw money in that direction, And with the likes of young gun Reza Ghoochannejhad who has scored 11 times in his 18 caps for the Princes of Persia it’s hard not to see them not having a strong showing.

The Iranians are the only team with an Asian Cup hat-trick to their name (1968, 1972, and 1976) but they’ve failed to contest a final since then despite going close in 2007 finishing 3rd.

Consecutive defeats to Qatar and Japan has the left Postecoglou with a record of just two wins from 12 matches leaving many Australians nervous at the prospect of the Socceroos kicking off the tournament against Kuwait on Friday night,

Australia has only tasted victory once since the 2014 World Cup with a 3-2 win over Saudi Arabia last September being followed up by a draw with the United Arab Emirates in October.

However, it’s a well-known fact the Socceroos play better on home soil and green and gold faithful only need remember their breathtaking close-fought 3-2 loss to the Netherlands last June and the gutsy 2-1 victory over Costa Rica 12 months ago.

Irrespective of how the Socceroos do in the Asian Cup, the entire country should still be proud of the fact that Australia is now seeing some quality international competitions and football coming to our isolated island nation.

But yeah, they’re going to win.

Group A: Australia, South Korea, Oman, Kuwait

Group B: Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, China PR, North Korea

Group C: Iran, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain

Group D: Japan, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine

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