ASIA’s international tournament takes centre stage this month. We got international football fanatic Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) to find us some outright value.
Asian Cup: Outright Preview
For the first time in its 59-year history, the Asian Cup is leaving the continent. Australia is hosting all 32 matches across 23 days for the 16th edition of the tournament. And it’s wide open.
Trying to find a bomb-proof Asian Cup bet pre-tournament isn’t easy. Why? Well to start with, 10 of the 16 nations have changed coach in the past 12 months so getting to grips with form, tactics, ideologies and the like isn’t easy.
Last summer’s World Cup was, on the whole, a bleak tournament for the supposed cream of the world’s largest continent. But nations Japan, South Korea, Australia and Iran returned from Brazil without a win and just three points between them.
So what’s the best Outright bet? Just four teams are below 7/1 in the betting and it’s difficult to make a case for the rest at 20/1+. Here we take a look at the main challengers and share our recommended outright bets. We’ll cover each group in more detail shortly.
Japan (5/2 Ladbrokes)
Having endured a World Cup nightmare when highly-fancied to be an underdog success story (this writer being guilty in that department), the Blue Samurai are back and hoping to defend their crown.
New coach Javier Aguirre has been involved in a Spanish match-fixing scandal that threatens to detract from the on-field business but the Mexican has so far had a seamless transition, overseeing a number of decent results. Only Brazil and Uruguay have beaten the side since Aguirre took charge.
Japan’s media and support remain firmly behind the new boss and the tournament favourites have been handed a kind group draw with Jordan and Iraq both plagued by inconsistencies and tiny Palestine making their major international bow.
Defence continues to be the Blue Samurai’s Achilles heel but the tactically disciplined coach has looked to evolve their game with faster transitions but greater emphasis on keeping possession and quicker counter-attacks, where possible.
And it’s in attack where Japan are most devastating. Likely to deploy a front-three of Shinji Okazaki flanked by Keisuke Honda and Yoshinori Muto with Shinji Kagawa playing a more withdrawn role, the defending champions rightly deserve their place at the top of the market.
Should they top Group D as expected, a quarter-final tie likely to come against one of the Gulf nations of UAE, Qatar or Bahrain should be negotiated and from there on in they’re in familiar territory. The team to beat.
Australia (3/1 William Hill)
The hosts have slid to an all-time low of 102 in the FIFA rankings and placed just 10th amongst the Asian sides. After a whirlwind of optimism following their brave and courageous displays in the World Cup last summer, many pundits are growing concerned with the progress of Ange Postecoglou’s side.
The Socceroos have won just once in their last 10 outings and that includes a friendly defeat against potential knockout opposition and tournament favourites Japan as well failing to net against Qatar and UAE. Hardly inspiring form.
Australia’s most successful club coach includes 16 of the 23 players he took to Brazil but having tinkered extensively with personnel, it’s been suggested Postecoglou is still in the dark over his preferred starting XI. Again, not ideal with the scrutiny now coming on from fans and media ahead of the tournament.
The Asian Cup has long been the target of the Socceroos and a title tilt is an achievable outcome but without any continuity in the centre-back department, a lack of defensive pace and an over-reliance on Tim Cahill up front, Australia could and probably should come up short.
As well as dealing with the pressure of an expectant home support, the Aussies must deal with the threat of South Korea in the group. Should they finish second, an expected semi-final showdown with Japan could be on the cards.
South Korea (6/1 Ladbrokes)
On first glance South Korea appear to be nicely priced. That is until you’re hit with the news that they’ve failed to bring the continental trophy home since 1960 and not even reached the final of the showpiece event since 1988. Pretty damming for a powerhouse like South Korea.
The team was greeted with a shower of toffees upon their arrival from Brazil following a dismal showing in a negotiable group with legend and coach Hong Myung-bo axed in favour of former Real Madrid midfielder Uli Stielike, the man responsible for the re-emergence of German football from the Euro 2000 debacle.
Since taking charge, Stielike has overseen four wins and three defeats in his seven friendlies. The German has been working overtime to find the answers for the Taegeuk Warriors unremarkable results and performances, even selecting four different goalkeepers in his short spell in charge.
But it’s the attacking third that might cause most concern. Former Arsenal forward Park Chu-Young has been ditched and there’s no standout candidate to fill the position. Instead, Ki Sung-Yueng will sit deep in the playmaking role with star man Son Heung-Min expected to shoulder the burden of goal-getting along with Lee Chung-Yong from the flanks.
The Reds have undoubted quality and the armoury to make a serious challenge but the side may require more fine-tuning from Stielike before they can consider themselves equal to fierce rivals Japan. Their final group-game against Australia should decide who tops Group A with the winner enjoying a kind route to the final.
Iran (7/1 William Hill)
Top Asian nation, according to the FIFA rankings, Iran made it through the qualifying stages unbeaten and could represent a slice of value as 7/1 shots for the 2015 title.
The Persians have qualified for every edition of the Asian Cup since hosting and winning their first attempt back in 1968 and Carlos Queiroz’s side should be head-and-shoulders above their Group C rivals, if they can shake-off their off-field kafuffles.
Despite failing to organize any meaningful friendlies prior to the World Cup up until a month before the competition started, Iran put in three solid displays and punters like me will no doubt be hoping for a repeat performance from Queiroz’s men.
The same old problems continue to stunt their progress. A lack of friendly internationals and the non-release of players from outside the country for pre-tournament training camps has had a negative effect. As has the sudden departure of assistant coach Ali Karimi.
But in their only official match before their send-off, the Persians beat their more illustrious rivals South Korea and also old adversaries Iraq, both by a 1-0 scoreline. They remain a solid force with a tough defensive line and an edge when playing on the counter-attack.
A more balanced approach is required and the Portuguese coach has promised an improved aesthetically pleasing result so optimism should be high in the Iranian camp.
Should Iran top their group a passage to the semi-finals is within sight. With either Australia or South Korea potentially lying in wait, (and Iran holding the Indian sign over Korea in recent years), the Persians could find themselves in the final and at 7/1 look a smart selection each-way.
Japan to win outright (5/2 Ladbrokes)
Iran to win outright (7/1 each-way)