Two of Asia’s biggest teams, South Korea and China, go head to head in Group C of the AFC Asian Cup, also comprising of debutants Philippines and Kyrgyz Republic.
South Korea, for all of their success in football, have not won the Asian Cup since 1960. This 59-year-long wait is also the highest among all the teams to have won the prestigious tournament. Their 2-0 win over Germany at the World Cup remains a firm reminder of their abilities to the rest gathered in UAE.
China, on the other hand, will simply try to break new ground, never having won the tournament before. A quarter-final finish, achieved last time around, will be the bare minimum. The first-timers will be determined to not just make up the numbers, but it could be daunting task for both.
|Previous appearance||2015 (Runners-up)|
|Best performance||Champions (1956, 1960)|
|Qualification Route||Winners - Group G (Second Round)|
|Head Coach||Paulo Bento|
|Top scorer in qualification||Son Heung-Min (6 goals)|
The Taeguk Warriors are the grand old men of the Asian Cup, having won its first two editions back in 1956 and 1960. Success since then has been hard to come by and last time’s final was a bitter-blow for them, having failed to clear the final hurdle.
However, this represents their best chance of bagging the silverware and the Asian Games gold medal was a step in the right direction. Talisman Son Heung-Min will miss South Korea’s first two games under a deal with his Premier League club Tottenham, but the Taeguk Warriors should still have a lot of firepower for the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan in their first two Group C fixtures.
Along with Japan, Paulo Bento’s men remain the biggest favourites to clinch the Asian Cup.
Last five matches: Saudi Arabia (0-0), Uzbekistan (4-0), Australia (1-1), Panama (2-2), Uruguay (2-1)
|Previous appearance||2015 (Quarter-finals)|
|Best performance||Runners-up (1984, 2004)|
|Qualification route||Runners-up - Group C (Second Round)|
|Head Coach||Marcelo Lippi|
|Top scorer in qualification||Yang Xu (8 goals)|
If Marcelo Lippi was looking for one final pay-day, China was the toughest assignment he could have hoped for. It has been anything but smooth sailing in the run-up to the tournament with a series of adverse results hampering the team’s progress, including a 0-0 draw against India at home.
China will have the services of three of their most trusted lieutenants, led by their captain and number 10, Zheng Zhi, still going strong at 38. Gao Lin, Feng Xiaoting and Zhao Xuri are the other senior statesmen as China’s floundering form could see them pushed by the Asian Cup newbies.
Last five matches: Jordan (1-1), Iraq (1-2), Palestine (1-1), Syria (2-0), India (0-0)
|Qualification route||Runners-up - Group A (Third Round)|
|Head Coach||Alexander Krestinin|
|Top scorer in qualification||Anton Zemlianukhin (10 goals)|
The Kyrgyz Republic have never appeared at this stage previously but neutral viewers will write them off at their own peril. Indian fans will be familiar with the Central Asian team, who like to pass the ball around with their patient build-up play.
The White Falcons will hope that their main weapon, Anton Zemlianukhin can come good again as Alexander Krestinin’s side kick the tournament off against China. A draw will serve them in good stead as they hope to upset Chinese calculations.
Last five matches: Qatar (0-1), Jordan (0-1), Japan (0-4), Malaysia (2-1), Syria (1-0)
|Qualification route||Winners - Group F (Third Round)|
|Head Coach||Sven-Goran Eriksson|
|Top scorer in qualification||Phil Younghusband (5 goals)|
The Philippines complete the Group C line-up and their matches against Kyrgyz Republic and China will be indicators of how far the South-East Asian nation have come.
The Azkals, a combination of Europe-based players and local Filipino talent, are winless in their last five. Phil Young, husband, captain, leader and top scorer will keep hope to keep the flag flying high while Sven-Goran Eriksson’s big tournament experience could come in handy.
Last five matches: Vietnam (2-4), Vietnam (1-2), Vietnam (1-2), Indonesia (0-0), Thailand (1-1)