Sportsworld’s Rahul Pathak casts his eye over the seven Gulf nations at the Asian Cup.
|China striker Dong Fangzhou will be hoping to
make headlines at the Asian Cup [EPA]
With the AFC Asian Cup set to kick-off in Bangkok on July 7, Al Jazeera previews the teams in Group C.
Fifa world rank: 76
Coach: Zhu Guanghu
Player to watch: Dong Fangzhou
Best Asian Cup finish: Runners-up 1984 and 2004
With a population of over 1.3 billion much is expected of China on the world stage of football, let alone in their own backyard of Asia.
Zhu Guanghu’s side impressed fans and pundits alike by making the final in the last edition of this tournament in 2004, when they were beaten 3-1 by Japan on home soil in Beijing.
However since then results have been disappointing and with calls for Zhu to step down China will be under a lot of pressure to perform this time around.
Manchester United striker Dong Fangzhou had one start with his new club side in their latest title winning season, with the 22-year-old playing 73 minutes in the crucial 0-0 draw with defending champions Chelsea.
Dong is yet to hit true greatness in the eyes of China supporters, but his recent move to the Premier League’s most successful club could spur him on to a successful Asian Cup.
Javad Nekounam will be the midfield maestro
Fifa world rank: 47
Coach: Amir Ghalenoei
Player to watch: Javad Nekounam
Best Asian Cup finish: Champions 1968, 1972, and 1976.
Three-time Asian Cup winners Iran have not tasted success in the tournament for over 30 years, and have reached the semi-finals in five of the past seven editions of the continental championship.
Coach Amir Ghalenoei is working with a new-look team with the likes of veterans Ali Daei and Yahya Golmohammadi not in the national squad this time around.
Fresh from successfully defending their West Asian Football Federation title in Jordan, Team Meli may be in a rebuilding phase but should be right in contention for a fourth Asian Cup title.
Javad Nekounam, currently plying his trade with Spanish Primera League side Osasuna, is a defensive midfielder, but is also a proven long-range threat on goal.
The 26-year-old will provide direction and control in the middle of the park for Iran, and his skilful distribution will be the key to providing striker Vahid Hashemian with scoring opportunites.
Malaysia need their star player Akmal Rizal,
Fifa world rank: 149
Coach: Norizan Bakar
Player to watch: Akmal Rizal
Best Asian Cup finish: Round 1 1976 and 1980
Joint-hosts Malaysia are the lowest Fifa-ranked team in this year’s tournament, and have not qualified for an Asian Cup finals since 1980.
Like the other three hosting nations, there will be plenty of enthusiasm in the Malaysian side and no shortage of fanatical support at the Bukit Jalil stadium in Kuala Lumpur, but this will not be enough for the Tigers to progress past the group stage for the first time.
The entire Malaysian squad play their club football at home in the national league, and Selangor FA striker Akmal Rizal will lead the attack for Norizan Bakar’s team.
Akmal suffered a leg injury in Selangor’s recent FA Cup semi-final clash but hopes to be fit by the time the Asian Cup tournament begins.
Maksim Shatskikh, centre, will spearhead the
Fifa world rank: 58
Coach: Rauf Inileyev
Player to watch: Maksim Shatskikh
Best Asian Cup finish: Quarter-finals 2004
Currently ranked fifth in the Asian Confederation by Fifa, Uzbekistan could be the dark horse of the tournament as the Central Asian nation is often left out of calculations when assessing title-winning candidates.
Rauf Inileyev is the Uzbek’s fourth different coach in the past four years, but his efforts in taking the nation’s under 23s squad to the quarter-finals at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha bodes well for an assault on the Asian Cup.
Uzbekistan won all three of their first round matches in the last Asian Cup, in a group containing Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Turkmenistan, before losing on penalties to Bahrain in the quarter-finals.
Dynamo Kyiv striker Maksim Shatskikh will again be the key player for Uzbekistan, with the former AFC Player of the year runner-up a real danger man in front of goal.