Giants Japan face new boys Palestine plus Jordan encounter Iraq
Current champions Japan will embark on their ambitious defence of the Asian Cup against fresh faces Palestine, who will be hoping to cause an upset on their tournament debut.
Former Chelsea caretaker coach Ray Wilkins, meanwhile, will be a familiar face in Jordan’s dugout as he aims to guide his side past 2007 winners Iraq.
Japan v Palestine
Cup, group and game favourites, Japan are heavy odds-on favourites at 1/10 with Coral to vanquish the Knights, having smashed Palestine 4-0 last time these two teams met.
The Asian Cup holders are 7/1 to repeat that scoreline, as only an emphatic first win in Australia will do. After a woeful World Cup, where their mettle was severely tested, the Blue Samurai have much to do to make amends.
Luckily for former Mexico coach Javier Aguirre, he has arguably the tournament’s finest squad to hand. East Asian football icon and AC Milan attacker Keisuke Honda has long been his nation’s leading man and was one of few to return from the World Cup with his reputation untarnished.
Along with heroic Honda, Mainz frontman Shinji Okazaki, reportedly a recent target for Leicester City, will also be expecting to add to his international tally of 48 strikes in 84 caps against Palestine.
Whilst former Manchester United man Shinji Kagawa will be tasked with playing provider, the Borussia Dortmund star, who once grabbed 17 goals in a season for the Bundesliga giants, could also contribute added goal threat.
With this collection of top quality attacking players at their disposal, and a rearguard containing the likes of Southampton centre half Maya Yoshida, the Blue Samurai faithful have high expectations.
Palestine, admittedly rank outsiders at 18/1 to win, or more reasonable 7/1 chances to draw, could perhaps pounce on the under-pressure East Asian giants.
The Knights are enjoying somewhat of a fairytale, having never appeared in the Asian Cup before, and have overcome significant difficulties to represent their nation in this top tournament.
Palestine can also capitalise on their low-key status, with Japan and Saints centre back Yoshida recently admitting “when you don’t have a great deal of information about your opponents then it can be scary.”
“I haven’t seen anything of the Palestinians at all” added skipper Makto Hasebe, which could embolden the Knights, who finally have the chance to prove themselves on the big stage.
Palestine poacher and joint to scorer Ashraf Al Fawaghra will certainly be aiming to make a name for himself, and could help the Knights punish Japan and slay a giant.
Jordan v Iraq
With Middle Eastern nations Jordan and Iraq widely expected to compete fiercely for second spot in Pool D behind Japan, this clash has the feeling of a must-win for both teams, and a cautious approach could prove both sides’ undoing.
The Lions of Mesapotamia hold the historical advantage, having downed the Chivalrous a tremendous 21 times, whilst only ever losing seven battles against their upcoming opponents.
Iraq are understandably match favourites at 7/5 and could unleash an array of talent up front, with top marksman Younis Mahmoud and former Tottenham youth star Yaser Kasim, 11/2 and 9/1 to score first and last respectively.
Jordan’s hopes meanwhile, may rest with highly-rated wingman and 2011 Pan Arab Games top scorer Abdallah Deeb, who is a fantastic 3/1 to net anytime and impress new boss Wilkins.
Former Manchester United midfielder Wilkins has taken over the Jordanian hotseat and is 15/8 to take all three points from this duel, but has had little time to work with his squad.
Iraq have also acquired a new coach but, as former winners, are still better value for victory than the comparatively inexperienced Chivalrous, who have only entered the Asian Cup twice before.