ASIA’S premier international tournament is upon us. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) explores the best bets from Group D.
Defending champions and Asian giants Japan headline Group D but spare a thought for Palestine making their debut bow in a major international tournament.
I’ve outlined my Outright selections here but below I’ll assess the chances and the best bets on offer for all four of the Group D teams.
Japan (1/4 BetBright)
It’s hard to believe the World Cup was just six months ago. It feels a world away. But not to Japanese football fans. The hurt, anguish and pain continues to burn bright and the Blue Samurai head to Australia knowing only a positive performance in the Asian Cup can heal those wounds.
Respectable and experienced coach Javier Aguirre has taken charge of the team following their disastrous display in Brazil and bar a few off-field distractions, his takeover has proved pretty seamless. Japan have continued where they left off pre-World Cup with a number of eye-catching displays and plenty of promise too. Only Brazil and Uruguay have beaten the side since Aguirre took charge.
The tournament favourites are most certainly the team to beat and the defending champions have been handed a kind draw along with out-of-sorts Jordan and an Iraqi side plagued by off-field drama whilst Palestine are unlikely to get close to the Blue Samurai.
Aguirre was intended to work on Japan’s lack of defensive cohesion and organisation and although they remain far from convincing, the fire power in attack along with the pace and speed with and without possession of the ball make the Asian giants a nailed on cert to top Group D.
Iraq (7/1 William Hill)
The fact Iraq are 7/1 just to win the group shows you the size of the gap between the top seeds and the rest of the pack. Seven years ago the Lions claimed an unlikely Asian Cup triumph but much has changed since with the only constant being the turmoil behind the scenes.
November’s Gulf Cup was seen as a perfect stepping stone for Iraq but ended in disaster. The Lions produced one of the worst tournament performances seen by an Iraqi side in living memory and unsurprisingly the knives were out. Hakeem Shaker was given the boot with former national player Radhi Shenaishil taking over.
The war-torn nation did go close to qualifying for a place at the 2014 World Cup, making it to the fourth round of qualifying in a group featuring pool rivals Japan and tournament hosts Australia. The talent is undoubtedly there but can Shenaishil mould a cohesive unit from such a rudderless bunch in the space of a few weeks?
The Lions have only once failed to make it out of the group stages of the Asian Cup and that was way back in 1972. Luckily for Shenaishil and his charges, second place is entirely up for grabs and Iraq still look the best equipped to take advantage. But that probably says more about their opposition than their current status.
Jordan (15/2 Paddy Power)
Two draws and eight defeats. That’s the state of play of the Jordan national side as they approach their continents most prestigious tournament. Not ideal, eh?
Rewind 12 months and The Chivalrous (peculiar nickname) were riding high after a runners-up medal in the West Asian Championship and cruising through the Asian Cup qualification phase untroubled. But then things started to unravel. After a number of sorry displays, Ray Wilkins was installed as Jordan’s new head coach with Frank Stapleton as assistant boss.
The new ‘young man’ in the dugout is winless since taking charge and has seen his team score just twice in seven games. It’s a head-scratching turn of form and doesn’t do the current squad justice. A number of experienced heads and foreign-based internationals fill the roster but their defensive approach is unlikely to take The Chivalrous far.
A group-stage exit beckons with just one qualifying place alongside Japan on offer. Unless Wilkins can bring about a refreshed creative and/or potent counter-attacking play, Jordan’s hopes of extending their recent run of two quarter-final appearances in three tournaments is unlikely to come to fruition.
Palestine (66/1 Ladbrokes)
‘We’re delighted just to be here’. Yep, that’s going to be the record played over and over by the Palestinians over the course of their Asian Cup debut this month. But who’s going to tell them to play a different tune? Not me.
It’s a fairy-tale achievement from another of the war-torn nations to reach their first top-tier tournament. Palestine completed the 16-team roster thanks to their AFC Challenge Cup victory over the Philippines and Ahmed Al Hassan's men made it through the Maldives without conceding a goal. It's that defensive stability that could yet cause Iraq or Jordan plenty of problems in Group D.
Playing football in the country continues to be a daily struggle for those based in the West Bank Premier League and whilst a select few play outside the region, the hardship endured to keep a team on the right track through incredible stress is one of football’s huge success stories.
As already mentioned, defence is their strong point and narrow defeats to Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan alongside a commendable draw with China prove they’re no slouches and deserve their place amongst the continent's elite.
Against two out-of-form teams, could Palestine pull off the unthinkable and book a place in the last eight? It’s certainly not impossible and there are far worse bets than backing them To Qualify at 5/1 with Ladbrokes. Hey, stop laughing!
With Japan nailed on for top spot, finding value from Group D isn’t an easy task. Jordan are 8/11 to fall at the first hurdle which looks a fair call following their horrendous run of results.
And the old romantic in me means I just can’t resist a play on the 8/1 from BetVictor on a Japan – Palestine straight forecast. Come on, let me dream!
Japan – Palestine straight forecast (8/1 BetVictor)
Jordan not to qualify (8/11 Paddy Power)