Asian Cup Group D: Back champions Japan to shine again
Current holders Japan are available at brilliant odds of 9/4 with Coral to retain their Asian Cup title, as they travel to Australia with a squad bursting full of top tier talent.
Their closest challengers for tournament triumph from Group D are expected to be Iraq (33/1) and Ray Wilkins’ Jordan (40/1), while competition new boys Palestine are the longest odds and rank outsiders at 200/1.
As record winners, having triumphed four times in this competition, Blue Samurai are heavy odds-on favourites at 1/4 to taste success again by first topping Group B.
The reigning champions also have new Mexican coach Javier Aguirre at the helm to guide arguably the tournament’s most star-studded squad.
In attack, ex-Manchester United playmaker Shinji Kagawa and in-form AC Milan maestro Keisuke Honda are the blockbuster names, but Mainz predator Shinji Okazaki has an excellent chance of emerging as top Asian Cup scorer.
The Blue Samuari midfield and defence are also jammed packed with quality, including Southampton centre half Maya Yoshida, Inter Milan’s flying full back Yuto Nagatomo and brilliant Bundesliga duo Makoto Hasebe and Gotoku Sakai.
If Japan, under pressure to perform after World Cup disappointment, wobble, intriguing Iraq will be certainly be waiting in the wings to capitalise.
The Lions of Mesopotamia are former Asian Cup winners themselves, and are available as second-favourites at 11/2 to stun Aguirre by claiming top spot in Pool D.
MLS midfielder Justin Meram, ex- Tottenham and current Swindon Town star Yaser Kasim, plus 2013 Asian Young Footballer of the Year Ali Adnan, will have to be in sensational form to snatch pole position, however.
Former Chelsea caretaker coach Wilkins, and sidekick Frank Stapleton, will also be aiming to pull off a tournament shock by steering Jordan to success. The Chivalrous are 13/2 to stun Asia by winning Group D, with their most important battle a first outing against Iraq.
Pool outsiders Palestine (50/1) do have the potential to be a thorn in the side of the more experienced teams, however, after securing their first-ever spot in the competition by winning the AFC Challenge Cup.
The Knight’s opening adventure sees them pitched against heavyweights Japan and, whilst they are not expected to trouble the champions, a spirited performance could make all the difference on Palestine’s tricky path to qualification for the final eight.