This week’s main report previews the 2011 Asia Cup tournament being played in Qatar from January 7th-29th. Explanations of key vocabulary (in bold) can be found at the foot of the post.
Only 6 weeks ago the football world was stunned by FIFA’s decision to give Qatar the chance to host the 2022 World Cup, so now the whole world will be watching from this weekend to see how well this Gulf nation can do when hosting the 2011 Asian Cup competition. The one-month long tournament kicks off at the Khalifa International Stadium on Friday and is being held for the second time in Qatar. The first was back in 1988 when the hosts went out in the group stage. They will be hoping to do a bit better this time, particularly as their three rivals in group A are all rather unpredictable: China, 1980 winners Kuwait and outsiders Uzbekistan. China, in particular, are a side that should be dominating the region but they only have two final appearances from their 10 visits to the tournament.
This is the 15th running of the competition, with Korea winning the first one in 1956, though only 4 teams took part – and then repeating their victory 4 years later. Remarkably for a team with a strong World Cup record, since that second victory in 1960, Korea have not won the tournament so they will be hoping to ease 50 years of pain this time round. To do so they may have to play their Northern rivals in the quarter-finals but that depends on their performance in group C which includes tournament favourites Australia, West Asian team Bahrain, as well as underdogs India. This is only the third time that India have made it to the final tournament and few give them any chance of even scoring a goal in this year’s version – their warm-up matches included thrashings by Korea and Yemen so they will not fancy their chances at all.
Australia were everyone’s favourites last time out when the tournament was held in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia (interestingly none of these teams have made it to this year’s tournament) but the Socceroos were a huge disappointment going out in the quarter-finals. This time they feel they are more prepared but the squad is an ageing one and though they should get out of the group they may struggle against teams far more accustomed to the climate and local conditions. It will be interesting to note just how these conditions affect the teams taking part, especially as they are taking place in the relatively cooler winter.
One of those sides could be Saudi Arabia, a country that has won the competition on three former occasions but failed to make the last World Cup. They will be hoping to make up for that disappointment here and they they should, at least, qualify from group B. Their record of appearing in six of the last seven finals suggests that they will be there or thereabouts at the end. Japan are also in this group and they will be hoping that new coach Zaccheroni will be able to deliver a 4th title and though the Italian coach has brought a young squad to these finals the experience of his European-based players will give them an edge over their group rivals and maybe even to win it outright.
Group D is an intriguing one, though rather cruelly dubbed the Axis of Evil Group, it includes holders Iraq who take on their rivals and former powerhouses of the region, Iran, as well as 2010 World Cup participants North Korea and the UAE. Iran have not won the competition since 1976 but they will have to improve on recent performances if they are to overcome the well-organised North Korean side, while few think Iraq can manage to repeat their amazing 2007 performance. The UAE could be one of the dark horses of the tournament and I think they’ll start this run by getting out of this difficult group.
So, who is going to win it? Only seven countries have ever won this tournament and it is unlikely that there will be a new name on the trophy come the end of the month in Doha. The last five Champions League winning clubs have come from either Japan or Korea and, despite the tough conditions, I do not see any change in the power structure of the region. I am going for a Japan-Korea final with the Japanese running out winners.
Check out some other links about the Asia Cup 2011
kicks off : To begin; to start a tournament
went out in the group stage: To be eliminated; to be knocked out in the early rounds
unpredictable: Difficult to predict; no one really knows what will happen
Remarkably: Unbelievably; amazingly; surprisingly
their Northern rivals: This refers to North Korea
to ease 50 years of pain: As the team has not won for 50 years they will be hoping to finally win again
underdogs: A team not expected to do well
thrashings: Heavy defeats, to lose by a large score
not fancy their chances at all: Think that they have no chance of winning
the Socceroos: Nickname of the Australian soccer team
failed to make: Did not qualify for the 2010 World Cup
an ageing one : The team’s average age is quite old, suggestions that they will not perform as well as before
will be there or thereabouts: Colloquial expression that means that the team has as good a chance as any other, they will probably make at least the semi finals
to deliver: Here the meaning is ‘to win’
give them an edge over: Their team is slightly better than others
dubbed: Called, named
Axis of Evil Group: This is a reference to George Bush’s naming of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the ‘axis of evil’ in 2002
powerhouses: Strong team with a strong tradition