India, playing in AFC Asian Cup for the first time since 1984, has been placed in Group C. Australia, Bahrain and Korea Republic complete the group. Let us take a look at the teams that India will be facing in Asian Cup.
FIFA Ranking – 26
Best Performance – Quarter-final (2007)
Tournament Expectations – Possible winners
Australia has emerged as one of the strongest nations under AFC since joining it. With back to back qualifications in world cup, the Socceroos are one of the toughest teams to beat currently. Australians are renowned for their fighting spirit in sports and it’s evident on the football field. They were dismayed by their failure to host 2022 World Cup and would be aiming to make amends in this year’s Asian Cup.
A host of Australian players ply their trade in EPL. Playing in one of the top leagues in the world has raised the level of their football over the years. The team’s main strength lays around four players who are in their 30s – Mark Schwarzer, Harry Kewell, Lucas Neill and Tim Cahill. These 4 players have a total of 53 years’ experience of playing in England. Schwarzer was one of the best ‘keepers in Europe last season and instrumental behind Fulham’s run to Europa League final. His performance almost earned him a move to Arsenal. Lucas Neill remains the rock at the back for the Socceroos. Kewell, when fit, is one of the most creative players on the pitch. Then there is Tim Cahill, one of the best headers in football presently. Cahill is extremely difficult to be picked by the defence because his late runs to the box is enhanced by his capability of leaping very high in the air. He has had an incredible success rate in aerial goals in the league where it’s never easy to out-jump defenders. His combination with right-back Luke Wilkshire is particularly lethal. Neil Kilkenny has impressed with his passing range in Leeds United and will be a handful in the heart of the midfield and can be a wildcard for his team. Holger Osiek has turned Australia into an extremely organized side which can be efficient but unspectacular.
Asian Cup might be his last International tournament
Holger Osiek is one of the most experienced coaches in this year’s Asia Cup. He worked as an assistant under Franz Beckenbaur when West Germany won the 1990 World Cup. He also led Japanese club Urawa Red Diamonds to their first AFC Champions League title in 2007. The highlight of the campaign in 2007 was a sparkling performance in final against Iranian club Sepahan.
Lack of a prolific goalscorer other than Cahill is bound to hurt Australia in Asia Cup. Their performance in qualifying round wasn’t impressive. The socceroos scored just 6 goals in 6 qualifier games, hardly world class by any standards. Robbie Kruse has impressed in club level but lacks International experience, Scott McDonald is yet to open his account for the national team. Tim Cahill can be over-burdened with goal scoring duties though he has an impressive record of scoring 21 goals in 46 matches for Socceroos. The full-back pairing of Wilkshire and David Canrney is vulnerable against pacy wingers. Australians looked like they were struggling in the conditions of Doha. They were held to a goal-less draw by UAE a few days ago and looked listless in that match.
Past encounters with India
Australia hasn’t played India since 1956. Things were totally different back then as India was miles ahead in football. The 4-2 win over Australia in the quarter final of Melbourne games remains one of the golden moments of Indian football. India faced Australia, again a friendly match after Olympics, this time winning 7-1. Neville D’Souza scored hattricks in both encounters.
What to expect from India vs Australia?
It will be interesting to see how Mahesh Gawli and Gourmangi Singh deal with Tim Cahill’s slightly withdrawn role. Manju has been struggling with niggles and he might lose the plot against Wilkshire’s forward surges. A young Baichung Bhutia could have caused havoc in Australia’s slightly old defence but at this age he can’t do it. Anthony Perreira’s pace will be another thing that will be sorely missed.
Prediction: India 0-3 Australia
FIFA Ranking – 87
Best Performance in AFC Asian Cup – Semi-final (2004)
Tournament Expectations – Exit in Group Stage
The team which earned FIFA’s “most improved national team” award in 2004 has been showing signs of progress in last decade. Bahrain, minnows till 2000s, has come very close to qualifying for world cup in both 2006 and 2010. They almost knocked Japan out in 2004 Asia Cup. Leading 3-2, they were undone by an equaliser deep into injury time, eventually slumping to a 4-3 loss. They performed heroically against Japan again in 2010 WC qualifying rounds – winning the home leg but losing to another late goal in the away match.
Bahrain is blessed by the usual straits that distinguish West Asian teams. They are strong, well built and have decent ball skills. They will also have the advantage of playing in familiar conditions of Qatar. The big miss will be Captain Mohamad Salmeen, renowned for his defence splitting passes. He broke his leg a few days ago and will not take part in Asian Cup. Winger Salman Isa Ghuloom is a legend in club football. He is an extremely versatile player who is also capable of playing as a striker. Ismaeel Abdulatif broke Saudi hearts with a dramatic goal in injury time in WC qualifiers. With 21 goals from 55 matches, he has proved to be Bahrain’s first choice striker in last 3 years. Fan favourite Mahmood Adbulrahman played well in world cup qualifiers, scoring three goals from midfield. Jaycee Okwunwanne has explosive pace and can easily beat opponent defenders by that attribute.
Abdulatif has the ability to score crucial goals
The Bahrain national football team often seems to be suffering from stage fright when it comes to the big occasion. They missed out in two crunch games in 2006 and 2010 world cup qualifiers. Bahrain’s recent performances in 2010 Gulf Cup has not been encouraging. Coach Salman Sharida doesn’t boast of a stellar career and will struggle against the more experienced counter-parts. Bahrain has lost to both Korea DPR and Saudi Arabia in recent friendlies, those losses might dent their confidence.
Past encounters with India
India has never managed to defeat Bahrain in four encounters. The last time these two teams faced each other was way back in 1993, for world cup qualifiers. Bahrain edged their home-leg 2-1 and romped to a 3-0 win in the away leg.
What to expect from India vs Bahrain?
Other than defeating Syria in Nehru Cup, India has struggled against West Asian teams in last 2 years. A 9-1 loss to Kuwait showed the extent of problems India has with physically gifted western Asians. India’s long ball game tends to suffer against such sides.
Prediction: India 1-2 Bahrain
FIFA Ranking – 39
Best Performance in AFC Asian Cup – Winner (1956, 1960)
Tournament Expectations – Semi-final
Korea has been one of the strongest teams in Asia in last two and a half decades. They have qualified in every world cup since 1986, reaching the semi-final in 2002. In the 2010 World Cup, the defeated former European Champions Greece in group stage but narrowly lost to Uruguay in pre-quarter final. They qualified for Asian Cup after finishing 3rd in the 2007 edition.
Fitness, stamina and ability to play a fast paced game have been the hallmarks of Korean football. They have brought a fairly young team and will stick to their traditional style of play. Goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong played a vital part in Seongnam’s AFC Champions League win a few months ago. Korea’s main strength lays in the width their full-backs and wingers offer. The link-up between wider players is often telepathic and is bound to cause problems to opposition defence.
Right-back Cha Du-Ri, son of legend Cha-Bum Kun has become a legend on his own. With a wealth of experience in both club football and international football, Cha is one the driving forces behind this Korean team. Partnering him on the opposite flank is Lee Young-Pyo. Young-Pyo, with 121 matches to his name is one of the most experienced players in the world right now. His marauding runs have somewhat slowed down with age but his anticipation, ability to read the game is unaffected.
Park’s workrate is incredible
Korea’s most important player will be their inspirational captain Park Ji-Sung. Ji-Sung known as “Two-lung Park” among Man United fans is arguably the most successful Asian player of all times. Over the years he has turned into one of the most crucial players for Manchester United. His work ethics, pace and ability to score crucial goals has made him indispensible for Sir Alex’s side. He is carrying good form to Asian Cup and will be a night-mare for any full-back. Bolton Wanderer’s hotshot Lee Chung-Yong will man the flank opposite to Park. The 22 year old Chung-Yong has been unstoppable in last 2 seasons, winning Bolton Wanderer’s “Player of the season” award in 2009/10 season. He has thrived under Owen Coyle’s attractive brand of football. Chu-Yong was one the best players for Korea in world cup – scoring two goals.
Park Chu-Young pulled out of Asian Cup in the last moment, a loss which is bound to cause a crisis in their attacking front. Their current strike force is inexperienced with an average age of 20. Wingers Park and Lee are capable of scoring goals but it would be too much to expect from the EPL wingers.
Past encounters with India
India has played Korea a fair number of times since their first encounter in 1958. Overall, two nations have played each other 18 times – Korea has won a whopping 14 matches while India has managed win only thrice. India did defeat Korea when it mattered most – in the final of 1962 Asian Games. Over the years Korea has embarrassed India often – like a 8-0 hammering in a friendly in 1976 or a 7-0 thrashing in a world cup qualifier in 1993. India hasn’t defeated Korea since 1977.
What to expect from India vs Korea Republic?
While Korea’s strength lays in their wingers and full-backs, India’s biggest problems are in flanks. Winger Steven Dias or left-back NS Manju has poor fitness records in last few years. They are bound to struggle against the pace of Park and Lee. Surkumar Singh’s defensive abilities have deteriorated considerably. Surkumar facing off against an in-form Park Ji-Sung is an ideal nightmare situation if you are an Indian fan.
Prediction: Korea Republic 2-0 India
Other articles on AFC Asian Cup
For team profile of India click here
For India’s past performances in AFC Asian Cup click here.