Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Let the countdown begin

127 days.

It sounds like a long time, it’s just over four months, but in reality the time will fly by. That is how long until Asia’s premier Football competition, the AFC Asian Cup, kicks off in Qatar.

After a disappointing showing in 2007 under interim coach Graham Arnold, Australia will be looking to put in a better showing this time around.

Clearly Asia’s number one side (at least according to the FIFA rankings), a lot is expected of Australia who have been drawn with fellow heavyweights Korea Republic, as well as Bahrain and relative newcomers, India.

Over the coming weeks we’ll take a look at each of the teams in Australia’s group and analyse how we think they’ll go.

First up, Bahrain.

Whilst Australia and Korea Republic will be expected to advance from the group without too much difficulty, Bahrain, who has fallen at the final hurdle in their last two World Cup Qualifying campaigns, will be no pushovers.

Bahrain will receive fantastic support at the tournament and will effectively be a second home side, with the tournament taking place in Qatar, just a stones throw from Bahrain. Bahrainis are expected to make the trek in good numbers to support their country and will provide an atmosphere that will make their team think they’re playing in Manama rather than Doha.

Those with long memories (or maybe not that long) will remember Bahrain comprehensively outplaying a full strength Australian side in Manama in the last round of World Cup qualifying just over 18 months ago.

Only an undeserved Mark Bresciano goal in the 93rd minute, and some awful misses by Bahrain striker Jaycee John, saved Australia’s blushes.

They’ve also got one over on Japan in recent times, with a 1-0 win over the Blue Samurai in Manama during qualification for the AFC Asian Cup.

Under new coach, Austrian Josef Hickersberger, they will be match hardened by the time they get to Qatar. They have eight games between now and January, including the 2010 Gulf Cup in Yemen in November.

This will allow Hickersberger the time to try new players and formations and settle on a line-up and squad he is comfortable with well before their first game against Korea Republic on 10 January.

Their key man up front if the exciting and enigmatic Jaycee John, who plies his trade in Turkey with Eskisehirspor. He has played 43 times for Bahrain, scoring 11 goals. Although if it weren’t for his wayward finishing that tally would be a lot higher.

Fouzi Ayesh is also one to keep an eye on in midfield. If he is allowed too much room, his creativity will unlock defences and he can also get forward and score himself.

With Australia and Korea Republic in their group, the draw hasn’t been kind to them, and they will need some heroic performances to get out of the group. Whilst they will have “home” ground advantage, I think both Australia and Korea Republic will have enough firepower to get the job done.

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