ASIA’S premier international tournament is upon us. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) explores the best bets from Group A.
Shocks, upsets and unlikely winners are a constant in international football. Hands up who saw Costa Rica reaching the quarter-finals of the World Cup, for example. But Group A of the Asian Cup looks the most straight-forward of the four pools to call.
I’ve outlined my Outright selections here, covering both Australia and South Korea in detail but below I’ll assess their chances and the best bets on offer for all four of the Group A teams.
Australia (10/11 Coral)
All roads lead to the Asian Cup. That was the message from the Socceroos going into last year’s World Cup and it’s time to sink or swim. With an expectant home support behind them, can Australia produce the goods?
Coach Ange Postecoglou has been quick to play down their chances with talk of a ‘long-term project’ and there’s no doubt the most successful domestic boss in Aussie history has made revolutionary changes in personnel and tactics since taking charge. But do they have enough to justify their strong market price in the betting? I’m not so sure.
Postecoglou has only overseen two wins (against Costa Rica and Saudi Arabia) under his tutelage and there’s a feeling the side may have regressed slightly since their battling displays in Brazil last summer.
The Roos should get their campaign off to a winning start, however. The curtain-raiser against Kuwait should result in three points before a tricky test against Oman. Should all be running smoothly, Australia complete their group games against South Korea in arguably the feature match of the pool stage.
Whilst many are suggesting a title challenge is well within their range (and of course, it is), I’m not convinced they can even top their group. Postecoglou’s side remain defensively fragile and susceptible to pace, something South Korea have in abundance going forward.
It would be a major shock if Australia failed to reach the quarter-finals but I can’t be backing them at odds-on to win the group. Next.
South Korea (13/8 BetVictor)
The Asian Cup has never been one of South Korea’s favourite tournaments. Their dismal record in even reaching the final is stunning for a nation with so much potential but it’s worth noting they don’t normally have any trouble getting through the groups.
Three bronze medals since the turn of the century reflect their ability to get within reach of the top prize and at 13/8 to take top honours in Group A, I’m going to be backing them to get their campaign off to a solid start.
Uli Stielike continues to chop and change his XI in search of a winning formula and although friendly results have been mixed, I can’t ignore the quality that the Taeguk Warriors boast in attacking areas despite lacking a central striker.
Man-for-man I rate South Korea marginally higher than the host nation and as mentioned, their extra pace could settle the Group A decider on 17th January. So taking the bigger price of 13/8 on Stielike’s side topping the pool makes the most appeal.
Oman (11/1 Paddy Power)
Paul Le Guen. Remember him? Thought you might have. Well he’s the man with the brains behind the Oman operation as they enter the Asian Cup for only the third time in their history.
On both previous appearances the Omanis failed to progress from their group but after reaching the semi-finals of the Gulf Cup in November having topped their pool, there’s a feeling Le Guen’s men could upset one of the big boys.
Oman arrive with a FIFA ranking of 93. Far from exciting but interestingly, nearly 10 marks higher than host nation Australia. And their back-to-basics philosophy, which has included fielding almost a full squad of home-based players, appears to be working in their favour.
The Red Warriors have W12-D11-L7 in their past 30 games and that includes a draw against Australia in their own back yard in 2013. They arrive on the back of three defeats from a winless run of four but their a combative team that pride themselves on being tough to break down and defensively efficient.
Whether Le Guen can find the right balance between defence and attack remains to be seen. Oman averaged just one goal per Asian Cup qualifier and aren’t potent enough going forward to be considered challengers for top spot. But with just one goal against in those six fixtures, getting the better of them won’t be easy.
Kuwait (25/1 Paddy Power)
Kuwait are onto their third coach since the start of 2013 having fired Brazilian Jorvan Vieira following a loss to group rivals Oman in November’s Gulf Cup. Former Tunisia midfielder Nabil Maaloul has been handed the reigns to recover lost pride.
The Blue made a promising start to that campaign, beating Iraq and holding the UAE but their 5-1 hammering against Oman was their worst result in more than a decade and the heaviest competitive loss in living memory. Ouch.
Maaloul is a relative newcomer to the coaching scene having only started in 2011 despite being into his 50s. Having garnered quick success in his home country, the Arab boss failed spectacularly when given the role of coaching the Tunisian national side.
Football in the nation is yet to come close to turning professional and the domestic league remains unorganised and at times, shambolic. Because of this, Kuwait are lagging well behind against Gulf nation rivals and that adds another block in the way of Maaloul’s search for success.
Expect Australia and South Korea to go for the jugular when up against the Blue. With three clean sheets in 14, they’re by far the weakest side in the group from a defensive perspective but don’t discount them nicking a goal. Bader Al-Mutawa and Fahad Al-Enezi will be looking to add to their burgeoning reputations and are capable of notching against the best defences.
As already mentioned, South Korea have to be the bet at an attractive 13/8 (BetVictor) to take top honours in Group A. The Duel Forecast of South Korea/Australia shouldn’t let punters down but at a best of 4/9 (Paddy Power), only big players will be excited enough to get involved.
For a bigger price, it could pay to have a small dabble on the Tricast of South Korea – Australia – Oman at 4/1 with BetVictor.