Favourites Australia and South Korea contest Asian Cup semi finals
The Asian Cup has so far provided drama and surprise in spades, with the shock eliminations of reigning champions Japan and highly-rated Iran leaving the competition wide open.
Australia (odds-on 4/5 with Coral to lift the Asian Cup) and South Korea (7/4) are now firm favourites for victory in the semi-finals.
They would be unwise to be too complacent, however, as respective upcoming competitors United Arab Emirates and Iraq have already stunned travelling fans.
Australia v United Arab Emirates
Plucky underdogs UAE, 6/1 to win over 90 minutes, showed nerves of steel as they engaged in the Russian roulette of a penalty shooutout in their quarter-final clash against Japan.
After vanquishing the current holders, the Whites will go down in Asian Cup folklore and should fear no-one, not even hosts Australia.
Coach Mahdi Ali has so far enjoyed a dream tournament and steered his side to a draw against the swashbuckling Socceroos in a warm-up fixture before the competition kicked-off, so these two teams are available at 3/1 to split the spoils again over 90 minutes.
This clash will be far from friendly, however, with so much at stake. An impressive UAE attack has grabbed the headlines, but they could now meet their match against the hungry hosts, so back both teams at 20/1 both to net in each half.
Prolific poacher Ali Mabkhout (4/1 to grab a goal anytime), already scorer of the fastest Asian Cup goal in history, breached Japan’s backline and stunned the champions with his fourth strike of the competition last time out.
Majestic Mabkhout will not be easy to contain, especially not when supported by mercurial playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, so the Socceroos rearguard will have to be sharp.
Australia, odds-on at 4/11 to triumph, will be feeling confident after dismantling China 2-0 in their own exciting quarter-final duel and, after netting 10 times in four games, are 12/5 to score three or more.
Socceroos superstar Tim Cahill’s brilliant bicycle kick is already a serious contender for goal of the tournament, and the ex-Everton attacker’s directness should trouble UAE more than the neat possession-play of Japan. Cahill is a superb 7/2 to strike first.
The hosts may be under much scrutiny and pressure ahead of this encounter, but their exemplary team spirit and threat from set pieces, plus the combined experience of current and former top tier talents such as Mark Bresciano and skipper Mile Jedinak, should see them through.
South Korea v Iraq
Iraq, a fantastic 4/1 to defeat South Korea, are certainly the side with the most momentum, after beating bitter rivals Iran in an enthralling encounter.
The passion of the Lions of Mesopotamia should provide for a fascinating tussle with the composed and patient Taeguek Warriors.
Swindon Town star Yaser Kasim and experienced striker Younis Mahmoud, who netted the winner when Iraq last lifted the Asian Cup in 2007, caused problems for Iran and should certainly ask questions of Uli Stielike’s defence,
South Korea, meanwhile, seem to have put their woeful World Cup firmly behind them and, despite suffering several injury set-backs this tournament, have managed to navigate a smooth passage to the semi-finals.
With a 100 per cent record so far, the Asian Penninsula nation (odds-on at 8/13 to beat Iraq) have emerged unscathed and unruffled from all their games, and now stand on the cusp of their first Asian Cup final since 1988.
Sensationaal Son Heung-Min (9/2 to net first) will be his nation’s biggest threat after bagging a brace against Uzbekistan, having only just returned to the starting XI following illness.
With valuable game time under his belt, and Swansea City maestro Ki Sung-Yeung pulling the strings in midfield, the Bayer Leverkusen star may be too much for Iraq to handle.