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On Saturday morning Australian time, 24 teams begin their quests for Asian Cup glory. For the Socceroos, it looms as a telling and potentially landmark moment. 

As current champions and one of the favourites, new manager Graham Arnold has been charged with blending a host of new faces into an effective unit capable of combatting the best Asia has to offer.

This will probably translate into match-ups with at least two of the following nations in the knock-out stages; Japan, South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the tournament hosts with much to prove, UAE. 

Along with Australia, it appears likely that the semi-finals will involve four of the six, yet the challenges of Qatar and Syria cannot be underestimated.

Before the Socceroos can even dream of a back-to-back title, the small matter of the group stage is just two days away.

Group B is one of mystery and the all-too-familiar for the Australians.

Another match-up with the dangerous Syria lies ahead, with the Qasioun Eagles hoping for revenge after falling to the Socceroos in the play-off stages of World Cup qualifying. Similarly familiar, the Socceroos' campaign will open against Jordan on Sunday, the nation that dusted them up 2-0 in the Middle East in the second round of World Cup qualification. The unknown and first time opponent Palestine will be the second hurdle for the Australians five days later, before they face the Syrians on the 16thin their final group match.

Most will expect three comfortable victories and the Socceroos will start as short priced favourites in each match, yet Asian Cup football can sometimes surprise and anything less than polished performances against three passionate countries could see the Australians drop points quite easily. If that happens early in the tournament, the pressure mounts extremely quickly.

So how will things unfold in Group B and what challenges to the three opposing teams pose to the Socceroos?

Jordan

Despite something of a revolving door approach to national team coaching, Jordan are a competent football team. Currently 109th in FIFA rankings and with quarter-final appearances in 2004 and 2011, they have proven previously that they should never be underestimated.

In something of an open group outside the expected advancement of the Australians, the Jordanians will see this as a very realistic opportunity to snatch second place in the group.

36 year-old Amer Shafi (pictured) enters the tournament as the most capped Jordanian player of all-time and is an inspiration to his team mates. It will be his last hurrah and that will add purpose and emotion to the squad. 

The experienced Anas Bani Yaseen and Baha’ Abdel-Rahman return for a potentially final tilt at the Asian Cup title and young star Musa Al-Taamari will have interested eyes directly on him. The 21 year-old APOEL attacker already has 21 international caps and will be the man most likely for the team brilliantly known as ‘The Chivalrous (in Arabic, An-Nashama).

With that 2-0 win against the Socceroos still fresh in their minds, the Jordanians will firmly believe they can replicate the result.

Manager: Vital Borkelmans

Recent results

  • 20 December – Jordan 0 Kyrgyzstan 1 (Doha)
  • 23 December – Qatar 2 Jordan 0 (Doha)
  • 28 December – China PR 1 Jordan 1 (Doha)

Jordan squad

  • Goalkeepers: Amer Shafi, Moataz Yaseen, Ahmed Abdel-Sattar
  • Defenders: Tareq Khattab, Yazan Abu Arab, Mohammed Al-Basha, Anas Bani Yaseen, Bara’ Marei, Feras Shelbaieh, Salem Al-Ajalin
  • Midfielders: Baha’ Abdel-Rahman, Saeed Murjan, Saleh Rateb, Yousef Al-Rawashdeh, Ahmad Ersan, Yazan Thalji, Yaseen Al-Bakhit, Musa Al-Taamari, Obaida Al-Samarneh, Khalil Bani Attiah, Ahmed Samir
  • Forwards: Baha’ Faisal, Odai Khadr

Palestine

With no recent or long term history against the tiny Arab state consisting of around 5 million people, Australia will be wary and cautious of a team always improving. Sitting at 99 in FIFA rankings, Al-Fedayeen or the Lions of Canaan have been recognised by both the AFC and FIFA for the advancements they have made in recent times, including being awarded the Asian Confederation National Team of the Year in 2014.

Most pundits will have the Palestinians pencilled in as the likely fourth placed team in this group. 2015 saw that exact result where the team only managed one goal in Australia during the group stage. However, there is more depth and enough skill to cause an upset and representation at the Asian Cup will always be about something a little more than winning for the team only officially recognised by FIFA in 1998.

The key men will be Sameh Maraaba and Jonathan Cantillana (pictured), both with nine goals in national colours and the dynamic Chilean born winger Yashir Islame who has scored seven times in just 13 appearances for Palestine’s senior team.

Manager: Nourredine Ould Ali

Recent results

  • 16 December - Pakistan 2 Palestine 1 (Doha)
  • 24 December  – Palestine 1 Iran 1 (Doha)
  • 28 December – Iraq 1 Palestine 0 (Doha)
  • 31 December – Kyrgyzstan 2 Palestine 1 (Doha)

Palestine squad

  • Goalkeepers: Tawfiq Ali, Amr Kaddura, Rami Hamadeh
  • Defenders: Daniel Mustafá, Mohammed Saleh, Tamer Salah, Musab Al-Battat, Jaka Ihbeisheh, Abdullah Jaber, Abdelatif Bahdari, Alexis Norambuena
  • Midfielders: Mohammed Bassim, Shadi Shaban, Jonathan Cantillana, Tamer Seyam, Sameh Maraaba, Pablo Tamburrini, Oday Dabbagh, Nazmi Albadawi, Mohammed Darweesh
  • Forwards: Yashir Islame, Khaled Salem, Mahmoud Wadi

Syria

The Eagles return to Asian Cup finals play for the first time since 2011. Having never gone beyond the group stage, their world ranking of 74 suggests this may be their best opportunity to do so for some time. 

Only five Asian nations are ranked higher, Iran (29), Australia (41), Japan (50), South Korea (53) and Saudi Arabia (69). After coming so close to an inter-conference play-off match for Russia 2018, the Syrians will believe they have the weapons to make a real impact in the UAE.

Recent form has not been particularly impressive, despite pushing Australia all the way in the Asian Confederation World Cup play-off fixtures in 2017. During those matches, the Syrians showed great skill on the counter and defended well against the much favoured Socceroos. With a tremendous determination and spirit, one would be foolish to write off the Eagles’ chances.

The 2017 Asian footballer of the year, and the first Syrian to claim that title, will be the man of most importance for the Qasioun Eagles. Whilst blessed with talent and explosive speed across the pitch, Omar Kharbin (pictured) is a superstar and Syria stand little chance without his influence. With 16 goals from 37 senior international games, Kharbin could transform Syria’s fate from hopeful quarter-finalists, to serious contenders in the latter stages of the tournament.

Manager: Bernd Stange

Recent results

  • 16 November – Oman 1 Syria 1 (Oman)
  • 20 November – Kuwait 1 Syria 2 (Kuwait)
  • 30 December – Yemen 0 Syria 1 (Abu Dhabi)

Syrian squad

  • Goalkeepers: Ibrahim Alma, Mahmoud Al-Youssef, Ahmad Madania
  • Defenders: Ahmad Al Salih, Moayad Ajan, Jehad Al Baour, Omar Midani, Amro Jenyat, Hussein Jwayed, Nadim Sabagh, Abdul Malek Anizan
  • Midfielders: Mahmoud Al Mawas, Mohammed Osman, Osama Omari, Tamer Haj Mohamad, Ahmad Ashkar, Youssef Kalfa, Zaher Midani, Khaled Al Mobayed, Fahd Youssef
  • Forwards: Omar Kharbin, Omar Al Soma, Mardik Mardikian

Australia

As for the Socceroos, the prelude to the tournament has been nothing short of a disaster. Aaron Mooy has succumbed to a knee injury, Matthew Leckie’s hamstring is likely to see him miss the group stage, Martin Boyle has been a late withdrawal from the squad due to an injury sustained in the friendly match against Oman. 

When added to the absence of Daniel Arzani in the attacking stocks, things are starting to look a little thin on the ground.

There is a depth in the squad that still makes them one of the favourites, yet the loss of Mooy and Boyle is particularly damaging. With James Jeggo already brought in, other replacements will need to be found. If the Australians are to capture back-to-back titles, it will be one of the most admirable efforts in the history of Australian sport.

Mathew Ryan will be one of the key men for the Socceroos with his ‘keeping rivalling the best in the world in his current form. In terms of attack, Massimo Luongo and Tom Rogic (pictured) are the weapons that must fire if the Australians are to finally shake the reliance on former striker Tim Cahill, who retired a few months back. It will be a huge chance for young stars Andrew Nabbout, Jackson Irvine, Awer Mabil and Jamie Maclaren to stamp their names permanently in the national colours. 

Injuries always present opportunities for others to shine and the Socceroos will need that to be the case if they are to seriously challenge for a second Asian Cup title.

Manager: Graham Arnold

Recent results

  • 17 November  – Australia 1 South Korea 1 (Brisbane)
  • 20 November  – Australia 3 Lebanon 0 (Sydney)
  • 30 December  – Oman 0 Australia 5 (Dubai)

Australian Squad

  • Goalkeepers: Mitchell Langerak, Mathew Ryan, Daniel Vukovic
  • Defenders: Aziz Behich, Milos Degenek, Alex Gersbach, Rhyan Grant, Matthew Jurman, Josh Risdon, Trent Sainsbury, Mark Milligan
  • Midfielders: Mustafa Amini, Chris Ikonomidis, Jackson Irvine, Massimo Luongo, James Jeggo, Tom Rogic
  • Forwards: Robbie Kruse, Mathew Leckie, Awer Mabil, Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout


Categories: Analysis | Socceroos | Asia

2019 asian cup, #asiancup2019, group b, australia, jordan, palestine, syria

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