Japan and Iraq to provide thrills in scrap for Group D top spot
In a clash that could potentially act as Group D decider, current Asian Cup holders Japan tussle with former champions Iraq.
Meanwhile, Palestine and Jordan must rally after dismal opening defeats to prove they still have the potential to qualify.
Iraq v Japan
Japan and Iraq, the past two winners of this pan-Asian tournament, should provide a sensational showcase in what could be a decisive game in the scramble to claim Group D top spot.
The ruthless Blue Samurai flexed their muscles against Palestine last time out, smashing the Middle Eastern minnows 4-0 and are odds-on favourites with Coral at 3/10 to now add Iraq’s scalp to their collection.
Much is at stake as the winner of this match will graduate to the group stage, and Javier Aguirre’s men are unlikely to let their grip on Pool D slip.
Tournament favourites Japan have won four of their eight encounters with Iraq, and will be feeling confident after vanquishing the Knights.
Veteran Blue Samurai star Yasuhito Endo (15/2 to draw first blood again) showed his nation he still has plenty to offer, orchestrating from deep with aplomb and opening the scoring with a pot shot from distance last time out, and could be key again.
The 34-year-old midfield conductor has plenty of attacking outlets to supply, with Leicester City-linked striker Shiniji Okazaki, also on target last time out, and available at 7/2 to bag a brace or better.
Keisuke Honda was also an ever-present threat against Palestine, and is 7/2 to score last after coolly converting a penalty against Palestine. Borussia Dortmund man Shinji Kagawa also shone as he became the first ever player in the Asian Cup to provide two assists in one game.
The Lions of Mesoptamia, meanwhile, are an outside punt at 9/1 to take all three points. However, Whilst Japan impressed in their opener, Iraq’s first outing was less thrilling.
Radhi Shenaishel’s side endured a tight and tempestuous tussle with Jordan, failing to show the attacking intent that was expected of them.
It was Swindon Town midfielder Yaser Kasim that stole the show in the end, providing a vital breakthrough from an impressive individual run. The 23-year-old’s shot may have benefitted from a deflection but Iraq will require more of his directness and adventure to find a way past Japan.
Back Yaser Kasim at 15/2 to add to his tally at anytime, with the Lions of Mesopotamia needing to abandon their over-cautious approach if their search for silverware is to be successful.
Palestine v Jordan
Ray Wilkins’ Asian Cup quest with Jordan got off to a disappointing start, with the Chivalrous succumbing 1-0 to Iraq.
Jordan, odds-on favourites at 2/5 to beat competition new boys Palestine, still have an outside chance of progressing and must press the re-start button against the Knights.
They will, however, be without suspended centre back Anas Bani-Yaseen, who picked up two yellow cards in their fiesty opener.
It is attack rather than defence that Wilkin’s should be concerned about though, as strikers Odai Al Saify and Ahmad Hayel are yet to score, but must provide potency against the Palestinians.
The Knights, 15/2 to win, will also hope to record a first ever Asian Cup victory, as they continue their tournament bow.
There would be no shame in a draw (10/3) for Palestine, who are still cementing their status a competitive team. However, Jordan fans will be expecting much more from Wilkins’ reign.