Asian Cup 2011 about more than Qatar Hosting a Tourney

Sure, most of Americans would see that Qatar is hosting the Asian Cup 2011 and think "hey let's see how they do with a major tournament." This would be wrong. First because they have already hosted the tournament, and second their World Cup bid is about the spectacular, while this is just another tourney. No new stadiums are being built for this. What is happening though is that all four AFC participants in the World Cup (Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Australia) will be active in this tourney. So will 2007 winner Iraq and their opponent in the final Saudi Arabia.

In fact this tourney is a who's who of a region with decent depth, though lacking in the top of the world rankings. All ten of the teams that were in the final qualification round will be in Qatar. Many of the nations share similarities to the United States in that their top flight leagues are young and though ambitious they struggle on the international stage outside of their region.

This tourney also has the advantage of occurring during the European secondary window and the North American primary transfer window. Of course there are players who will be out of contract, or who already are. Asian Cup 2011 being a January tourney means that several nations won't have full selection of their players as the major European leagues are in business, or will be shortly after the tournament is completed on the 29th of January.

Starting on January 7th with host Qatar v Uzbekistan in a Group A contest the four groups of four will compete until January 19th when the top 2 will advance to the knockout rounds. While disappointing, it is not a surprise that standard US TV will not have this available. Good news though, the AFC will web-cast everythingThe Cup will be available in the USA through iN DEMAND (on Comcast, Dish, FiOS, others), online at www.oneworldsports.tv  and on Verizon's V-Cast mobile video.

Let's look at the Groups and what teams and players might be worth a watch, as well as the team's rankings by the Soccer Power Index and FIFA.

Group A

SPI

FIFA

Qatar

108

114

Kuwait

110

102

China

71

87

Uzbekistan

85

109

Let's just lead off with my own disappointment that neither Qatar nor Kuwait will be fielding a player that I saw during the '98 World Cup Qualifiers while I was serving at Camp Doha, Kuwait. Of interest from Qatar though is Khalfan Ibrahim Khalfan. Once the player of the year (2006 at age 18) in the entire region, this youngster has had issues with fitness and health over the past few years. A tournament at home is the perfect place to make a comeback for the small second striker. That first match will also feature Qatari Stars League player Jasur Hasanov for Uzbekistan. He's made two appearances in the Asian Champions League and recently moved to QSL from the Uzbek League. In fact Uzbek teams have made stronger-than-expected runs in the ACL so Uzbekistan shouldn't be ignored. China brought Hao Junmin to the tourney from Schalke 04 so if you are like sidereal and follow the Bundes there will be a player of interest.

I expect Qatar to make it out of the round in this weakest of groups. The second team could be anyone, well except for Kuwait. I'd pick Uzbekistan though.

Group B

SPI

FIFA

Japan

26

29

Saudi Arabia

47

81

Jordan

102

104

Syria

97

107

 

American soccer fans are familiar with two of these teams, but more so Japan than Saudi Arabia recently. Recently written up here, Tomokai Makino, will be present and should be expected to see time. He is also free. Since MLS has that scout in Asia, if he isn't at this tournament he should be fired. Other Japanese players that will be of interest are Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki. Okazki's goal rate of 1 goal every third appearance in the J-League has earned him a transfer to Germany. Honda you will remember from the World Cup and his time with CSKA Moscow. I follow Gulf Arab soccer more than the Levant, probably because the Gulf has the money and time to spend on the sport.

The contest here will be who gets first out of Japan and Saudi.

Group C

 

SPI

FIFA

Australia

34

26

South Korea

23

40

Bahrain

90

93

India

170

142

 

For me to list every single player that Australia has brought would be difficult. Many are familiar to the American fan as they ply, or have plyed, their trade in the EPL. We even get the A-League on TV at times. This list includes but is not limited to Lucas Neill, Tim Cahill, Luke Wilkshire, and Harry Kewell. In the interest of getting you a new 'Roo to watch, check out Jon McKain. No I have not misspelled the former GOP Presidential candidate's name, instead this is player who is available on a Free after he completes a contract in Saudi. South Korea, like Australia, has several familiar names to American EPL fans. While their pro teams are weakened names like Park Ji-Sung, Lee Chung-Yong, Cha Du-Ri, and Ki-Sung Yueng show a determination by a national team to continue declare its strength. While Bahrain did make the WC qualifying playoff they are probably only the 3rd or 4th best side from the Arab Gulf states. India has been in free fall since winning the Asian Challenge cup but Sporting KC player Sunil Chhetri did make the squad, he and Climax Lawerence.

This is another two-team contest with both Australia and South Korea nearly certain to advance.

Group D

 

SPI

FIFA

Iraq

84 101
Iran 40 66
North Korea 98 108
UAE 111 105

 

Now, my longest readers will know that I am fascinated with defending Champions Iraq's National Team. The fact that they could win the 2007 with all their nation was going through is impressive. It was in fact impressive enough that Nashat Akram (formerly of FC Twente with Nkufo, now a Free) once got a look by Manchester City. Another interesting Iraqi to watch is Younis Mahmoud who has being scoring at an 80% rate or so in the QSL. Iranian players are lesser known to American soccer fans, but young Ehsan Hajsafi is one that should get your attention. He is likely to play as wingback in this tourney but is capable of any left sided position or attacking central role. The Iranians also bring two La Liga players to the tournament Masoud Shojaei and Javad Nekounam from Osasuna. North Korea's most interesting player is Jong Tae-Se, not because of his odd citizenship history, but because the man scores goals. He is also the rare North Korean player not playing in North Korea.

While North Korea could surprise the expectation here is that Iraq and Iran advance. Iraq in particular has had a packed December of Friendlies as preparation.

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