A huge year of international football begins with the delayed 2023 Asian Cup where the biggest and best nations in Asia head over to Qatar to battle it out for the title in what looks like a competitive competition this time around.
Qatar are not only the hosts of this tournament but they are the defending champions as well. They will line up looking to make a successful defence of their crown but plenty of capable teams will be out to stop them.
2019 – Qatar
2015 – Australia
2011 – Japan
2007 – Iraq
2004 – Japan
2000 – Japan
1996 – Saudi Arabia
1992 – Japan
1988 – Saudi Arabia
1984 – Saudi Arabia
The 24 teams have been divided up into six groups of four with the top two in each group plus the four best third placed sides going through to the knockout stages so for the first fortnight of the competition we have a raft of matches to lose just eight teams – 33% of the field. That is important to remember when betting on side markets. From the last 16 onwards the tournament is a straight knockout ending with the final in Lusail on February 10, where the winners will be crowned.
Groups A + B
The host Qatar are the number one seeds both as the hosts and the defending champions and they are the main seed in Group A. They will be joined by China, who should be offering more in this continent than they do, and Lebanon who have the opportunity to be competitive in this event. Tajikistan are the other team in this group. Australia are the team who head up Group B where they are joined by Uzbekistan, an India side who will be expected to offer something given the rising profile of the Indian Super League, and Syria for whom being competitive would be an achievement.
Groups C + D
Iran are the former winners of this tournament and will be out to show that they remain one of the leading lights in Asia from the position of top dogs in Group C. They are in a section with United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and a Palestine side who could be cannon fodder for the others. Japan are the favourites for the tournament and they are the leading lights in Group D. They have the former champions Iraq in with them but with Indonesia and Vietnam the other two nations in the section it would be a surprise if Japan don’t dominate.
Groups E + F
South Korea haven’t won this tournament since way back in 1960 and that is far too long for a country of their stature in the game so they will be full of motivation to have a big event from the top seeding in Group E. They are in a group with Malaysia, Jordan and Bahrain so they should be able to conserve plenty of energy heading into the knockout stage too. Saudi Arabia shocked the world 14 months ago when they beat Argentina in the World Cup and they will look to dominate Group F. Thailand, Kyrgyzstan and Oman are the teams looking to cause an upset.
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I think this is a tournament where the cream will rise to the top but Japan have one or two too many injury concerns for my liking and while man for man South Korea look a standout side I’m not convinced by Jurgen Klinsmann as a manager. You shouldn’t rule out the hosts Qatar or Iran while Australia are kitted out enough to make a big impression in the tournament but I like the team based not far away in terms of Saudi Arabia.
We saw at the World Cup the raw talent that the Saudis have at their disposal and since then their domestic league, from which their entire squad is based, has had an implosion of world class talent which can only improve the standards of the players who will be travelling to this tournament. Saudi Arabia have a manager in Roberto Mancini who knows how to win tournaments as a player and a manager which could be significant. We saw at the World Cup that the Saudis won’t be short of support in this event and I expect them to put up a decent showing here.
A more competitive market could be the top goalscorer one where Heung-min Son is the favourite but you would imagine he’ll share South Korea goals with Hee-chan Hwang among others so I’m happy to look elsewhere in this market. I do think Japan will go well in this tournament but they might share the goals about a little bit as well so I’m going to look a little deeper in the betting where I like the look of Mehdi Taremi who has been banging in goals for fun for Porto in recent seasons.
I do expect a decent showing from Iran in this tournament, albeit I think down the stretch they will find one too good for them but they have the second lowest ranked team in the tournament in their group which Taremi could feast on and then they would get a third placed side in the opening knockout round which could also see a few goals scored. He averages more than a goal every other game for his country and will be the central focus of the attack. If Carlos Quieroz was still in charge of Iran I might swerve this but Iran are much more free scoring under Amir Ghalenoei so I think he’s a decent bet.
I think the majority of the big hitters will win their groups but the one where that might not be the case is Group B where Australia could be a little vulnerable. I don’t necessarily hate on Australia, although I do think they lack for creativity and can only rely on set plays for so long, but Uzbekistan are an improving nation and at 3/1 I think they could be value to get top spot ahead of the Socceroos, especially if Australia have already qualified by the time they meet in the last game and feel like resting players.
In the last two years, Uzbekistan have wins over Cameroon, Kazakhstan and Bolivia and they have also held Russia, Venezuela and a Mexico side that had a number of starters playing for them and none of those are bad results. In all, Uzbekistan are unbeaten in their last seven matches and have scored 17 goals in that time. If there is a negative it is that their captain, Cagliari forward Eldor Shomurodov, is injured and will miss the tournament but I still think Uzbekistan have the ability to be more competitive in this group than a 3/1 price would suggest.
Back Saudi Arabia to win Asian Cup (e/w) for a 2/10 stake at 9.00 with Bet365 (1/2 1-2)
Back M.Taremi Top Goalscorer (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 13.00 with BetVictor (1/4 1-3)
Back Uzbekistan to win Group B for a 2/10 stake at 4.00 with BetVictor