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Asian Cup Group B: China could surprise pool favourites

China are outside tournament tips (at 25/1) to lift their first Asian Cup, while Group B rivals Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia are 14/1 and 25/1 chances respectively.

Team Dragon, however, may just be the ‘sleeping giant’ of Group B, with former French footballer and Portsmouth coach Alain Perrin leading the way.

China are expected to be a well-drilled, hard-working unit, with a sprinkle of star dust provided by former Charlton Athletic and Celtic midfielder Zheng Zhi and ‘Chinese Messi’ Wu Lei, who is said to be on the radar of some of Europe’s top clubs.

Perrin is 13/5 to top Pool B with Team Dragon, but faces stiff competition from a strong Saudi Arabia squad, who are second-favourites at 9/4 to win the group, behind Uzbekistan (9/5).

Much is expected from White Wolves Uzbekistan, who made the final four in 2011 and have qualified from the group stage three times in a row.

They could yet be dark horses to challenge cup favourites Japan, Australia and South Korea, so keep an eye out for Lokomotiv Moscow left back Vitaliy Densiov and young striking star Igor Seedev along the way.

Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia face off in their final Pool B clash, which could well be the game that shapes the group.

Potentially the most important match-up for China, meanwhile, is their opening duel with the Green Falcons, as it could set the tone for their remaining matches and decide whether they will be competitors or also-rans.

Three-time winners Saudi Arabia have some sensational attacking options, with AFC Asian Footballer of the Year Nassir Al-Shamrani and Nawaf Al-Abed, who starred in the recent Gulf Cup of Nations, on hand to cause problems.

Meanwhile, North Korea, fantastically nicknamed ‘thousand-mile horse’, are certainly the outsiders, but are available at brilliant odds of 5/1 to win Group B. This is perhaps not so outlandish considering they are the most recent of the four nations in this pool to have qualified for the World Cup.