Queiroz sees Asian Cup glory for Iran

The Asian Cup kicks off this weekend in the UAE, with 24 nations competing to lift the trophy in a newly-expanded 17th staging of the tournament.

Four years ago Australia claimed victory on home soil, the Socceroos lifting the title for the first time since they joined the ranks of the AFC nine years previously. Can new boss Graham Arnold lead them to defend that title now?

Australia are 6.50 to win a second Asian Cup crown though their new boss has been dealt a bitter blow with the loss of key midfielder Aaron Mooy. The Huddersfield playmaker misses out, while Arnold also has retirements from the likes of Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak to factor in.

Given that Australia looked fairly limited in the World Cup last summer, a successful defence appears less likely. Celtic playmaker Tom Rogic will be holding the burden of responsibility when it comes to creating scoring chances.

Former Real Madrid and Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz is now the boss at Iran, who start the Asian Cup as 5.00 joint-favourites and will be the team to beat it seems.

They have only lost one competitive game since the last Asian Cup in 2015, a setback against Spain in last summer’s World Cup that came via a single goal. The pragmatic Portuguese has established Iran as a side that are tough to break down and during qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, they managed to keep a dozen consecutive clean sheets.

That reliability makes them hard to oppose, while the attacking craft of midfield duo Masoud Shojaei and Ashkan Dejagah alongside Rubin Kazan forward Sardar Azmoun (24 goals in 40 internationals), ensures they are strongly fancied to justify favouritism.

South Korea have gained some traction under their own new manager, Paulo Bento. They’ve won a series of friendlies and are the antidote to Iran’s pragmatism in terms of style of play.

In Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min, they possess perhaps the most complete attacking player in the tournament. They have a hefty supply of players plying their trade in European football, with Augsburg forward Ji Dong-won a natural goal threat.

No Asian Cup win since 1960 is a poor return and while they may be cavalier in their approach, South Korea at 5.00 have the talent to go deep and have a handy group to start with in China, Philippines and Kyrgyzstan.

Another Asian powerhouse is Japan, also under a new manager in Hajime Moriyasu. This tournament has the hallmarks of a transitional period, with Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki not in the squad and youth being favoured.

Also trading at 5.00 to win the Asian Cup, the Japanese looks to be most vulnerable of the market principles. That said, Werder Bremen’s Yuya Osako provides a solid goal threat and youngster Ritsu Doan looks to be one to watch in the UAE.

Saudi Arabia, hosts the UAE and Iraq will want to push themselves into the picture, but logic suggests the winners will come from the fancied nations.

It comes down to a choice between Iran’s pragmatism and the potential maverick attacking blend of South Korea – with preference for the former on this occasion.