2011 Asian Cup

2011 Asian Cup

Countdown to kick-off

South Korea, Japan and Australia are the favourites to win this year's Asian Cup. The event will also have a global significance as it will test host nation Qatar's ability to stage a major event - the country was recently awarded the 2022 World Cup.

Among the other nations with a good chance of the trophy are Iraq, the defending champions, Kuwait - coming off a morale-boosting victory in the recent Gulf Cup - Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The three-week football competition starts on Friday with the hosts facing Uzbekistan; the final is on January 29.

There are 16 teams involved; let us see how the teams shape up:

China (The kids)

The Dragon's squad for the Asian Cup are the youngest in the team's history, with an average age of only 24. But, after a number of breakthroughs in 2010, there is a renewed air of optimism around the continent's perennial under-achievers.

Last year marked a series of firsts for Gao Hongbo's side. Their 3-0 defeat of South Korea at the East Asian Football Championship in February was their first victory over their rivals in 28 attempts, and set China on the path to their second win in the regional event.

They missed a place at the World Cup in South Africa, but a shock 1-0 win over France in June was the most sensational result of the pre-tournament friendly matches.

China have made nine previous appearances at the Asian Cup, but the closest they have come to success is as runners up in 1984 and in 2004, when they lost 3-1 to Japan.

Australia (Shamed)

The Socceroos approached their first Asian Cup in 2007 confident of winning but struggled with the heat and humidity in Thailand and Vietnam, falling to Japan in the quarter-finals.

However, the milder winter conditions in Qatar should suit them better.

Bahrain (Tiny)

Bahrain failed to get into the knockout rounds at the last Asian Cup in 2007, and with Australia and South Korea awaiting them in Doha, a similar fate could be on the cards. Avoiding last place in Group C must be their priority as they come into the tournament riding a poor run of form.

India (Minnows)

It has taken the Bhangra Boys 27 years to qualify for its third Asian Cup and few are expecting any fireworks from a massive country that has never realised its footballing potential. India are in Qatar courtesy of winning the eight-nation AFC Challenge Cup as hosts in 2008.

Iran (Under pressure)

The pressure is firmly on the Princes of Persia to win their first Asian Cup in more than three decades and revive the glory days of the 1960s and 1970s. They clash with holders and arch rivals Iraq in Group D, which includes World Cup finalists North Korea and unfancied United Arab Emirates.

Iraq (Unlikely)

The Lions of Mesopotamia stormed to shock Asian Cup glory in 2007 - when they beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Jakarta - against the backdrop of war, but they will have to spring a huge upset to repeat that feat in Qatar. Coach Wolfgang Sidka says: "Our target is to reach the quarter-finals."

Japan (Favourites)

Coach Alberto Zaccheroni is chasing a record fourth win for the Blue Samurai as a crucial stepping stone in the build-up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"The Asian Cup is a tournament for us to win and clinch a berth in the Confederations Cup," Zaccheroni said.

Jordan (Underdogs)

The team are raring to spring a surprise, like their fight to clinch only their second-ever berth.

"We want to be competitive, although it will be a tough mission in the group that includes Japan, Saudi Arabia and Syria," Jordan coach Adnan Hamad said.

Kuwait (Rejuvenated)

They may be the bottom seeds in Group A, but few teams will enter the Asian Cup with as much recent experience of claiming silverware as Goran Tufegdzic's rejuvenated Blues. The change is down to "motivation, strategies, physical fitness, skills, team spirit and on-field chemistry", he says.

Korea DPR (Secretive)

The "Thousand-mile Horse" North Korea go into battle hoping to banish bitter memories of a humiliating World Cup where they lost every game. Trying to second-guess the world's most secretive country is not easy, but coach Afshin Ghotbi promises they will be stubborn opponents.

Korea Republic (Hurting)

The Tigers of Asia's hopes of a first Asian Cup in 51 years have been hit by the loss of key striker Park Chu-Young to a knee injury. Coach Cho Kwang-Rae says: "Football is not an individual sport; if each of the 23 players can come together, we can overcome this problem."

Qatar (Hosts)

Hosting the Asian Cup for the second time in their history, Qatar will find themselves under greater scrutiny after winning the right to stage the 2022 World Cup. Their French coach Bruno Metsu was encouraged by their most recent warm-up game, despite them being held to a 0-0 draw with Iran.

Saudi Arabia (Eyes on the Cup)

The Green Falcons, three-time Asian Cup winners, believe it is time to end the title drought they have suffered since 1996, with coach Jose Peseiro hoping to put their World Cup heartbreak behind them. Peseiro kept his job despite the Saudis failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 20 years.

Syria (Coach shuffling)

The team's new stop-gap coach is determined to help the Eagles soar to success. Valeriu Tita is in charge of the Asian Cup campaign after the job changed hands three times in three months. The Cup will be their first time at the tournament since 1996.

UAE (Dark horse)

The Falcons aim to surprise at the Asian Cup, where making the knock-out stages would be a major achievement for the Group D small fry. UAE reached the finals for the eighth time after a 5-0 thrashing of Malaysia in the qualifying matches, and topped their group ahead of Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan (Going up!)

The White Wolves may not have made their Asian Cup debut until 1996, but they have improved with each participation and will be aiming for a last-four place at the 2011 tournament.

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