Asian Cup kicks off as regional powers aim to regain glory

By Hilton Yip Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-8 23:28:10

Asia's finest go into action Friday down under in the Asian Cup.

Coming off a dismal showing in the last World Cup, the AFC's best teams like Japan, South Korea and hosts Australia will be hoping for a chance to redeem themselves. China, however, go in with the usual low expectations.

Defending champions Japan are heavily ­favored and have the most talented squad in Asia, filled with seasoned European pros including AC Milan's Keisuke Honda and Borussia Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa. They should at least reach the semifinals, though the Blue Samurai have been in mixed form since their poor World Cup, which was highlighted by a 4-0 defeat to Brazil in October.

Australia will be bent on winning it on home soil after finishing second to Japan in 2011. Their team quality may be lacking, especially as they are still relying on 35-year-old Tim Cahill, the former Everton stalwart who plays in the MLS, to spearhead their attack. They have the chance to show their mettle early as they face South Korea in the group stage.

Meanwhile, China had the dubious distinction of qualifying as the best third-placed team by goal difference. China have a young team with an ­average age of 24.4, which suggests an eye on development for the near future especially the next World Cup qualification campaign.

Also, seven players are from Guangzhou ­Evergrande, the reigning domestic champions and 2013 Asian Champions League winners. This includes Zheng Zhi and right back Zhang Linpeng, who has consistently impressed in both domestic and Asian club competitions. This provides the squad with a solid core of winners which may boost team cohesiveness and spirit.

The Chinese team are on a 10-game unbeaten run, though that includes victories over Kyrgyzstan, the world's 152nd best team.

So, is there any chance China can advance deep into the tournament? It seems highly unlikely, though they can at least do better than in 2007 and 2011 and reach the quarterfinals.

The tournament's weakest team provide a highlight. Palestine may be riven by conflict and struggle for world recognition, but they will be participating in an international tournament for the first time. They qualified by winning the Challenge Cup for Asian minnows and managed few training sessions due to logistical obstacles, according to a Guardian report. For their people, the team have already brought them pride.

The author is an editor with the Global Times.

Posted in: Extra Time

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