The 2015 AFC Asian Cup kicks off this week from beautiful Australia. Matches will take place in 5 different venues along Australia’s east coast. Host Australia, as well as 2011 top-3 finishers Japan and Korea Republic received direct qualification. The other 13 teams advanced through qualification. Korea DPR and Palestine advanced through two separate editions of the AFC Challenge Cup, which has since been disbanded. Oman, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and United Arab Emirates advanced as qualifying group winners. Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar, and Uzbekistan advanced as qualifying runner-ups. And China PR advanced as the best 3rd place team in qualifying to round out the 16 team field.
The tournament features all of Asia’s traditional powerhouses. Every team that has reached the semifinal of every edition of the Asian Cup since 1972 is featured in the field. That’s pretty remarkable. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter @We_Global for all of our latest posts!
The draw for the final was held all the way back in March 2014 which probably rendered the pots a bit uneven. All of Group A’s 4 teams are probably just as good as the second best team in Group D, for example. Pot 2 contained Saudi Arabia, who we’d have in Pot 4, as well as Korea Republic, who we’d have in Pot 1. Clearly, the draw was important.
But the show must go on, and teams must play with what they were dealt. The tournament is fairly straightforward. The Group Stage will be played as a round robin with each team playing 3 matches. The top 2 from each group will advance to the knockout stage. The winner of the tournament will advance to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. Click here for our predicted Margins of Victory for every match.
Projected points and odds are based entirely on the WGF Rankings.
The first group features host Australia, Korea Republic, Oman, and Kuwait. Nobody is weak in this group, and Australia brings home advantage with them into the fray. Don’t be surprised to see a number of draws within this group, which features two teams that went to Brazil in 2014. We expect the hosts and Korea Republic to be the frontrunners, but truly any team can emerge from this group. We give Korea Republic about a 50/50 shot of finishing the group with 6 or more points. That’s not overly optimistic, but that’s our highest projection for this group. Conversely, we see Kuwait as the least likely to advance, but we still give them better than a 50% chance of winning at least one game. We don’t give any team better than a 60% chance of a victory in any of the 6 matches.
We expect the hosts to come out of the gate firing and claim all 3 points. We expect Korea Republic to do the same. Don’t be surprised to see the final match between Australia and Korea needing both teams to only claim a point to advance. When the initial draw was made, we expected Australia in a runaway. Now we’re not so sure.
Korea Republic: 5.52
Update after Round 1:
From the strongest group to most likely the weakest, Group B certainly should not lack in competition. Korea DPR may not have qualified if they were thrown in to the qualifying fray, but they are here. We give them only a 50% chance of grabbing more than 1 point from this group and believe they are the weakest in the field. Please don’t hack us. Had they been drawn somewhere else, that number would surely be higher. We think Uzbekistan grabs all 3 points in the first match. But Saudi Arabia could surprise. If they are able to hold China to a draw and defeat Korea DPR, they’ll be playing for a spot in the knockout round in their final match against Uzbekistan. 5 points in this group may be enough to advance. Much of this group’s fate will largely hinge on the opening match between China PR and Saudi Arabia in our estimation. We ultimately expect Uzbekistan to top the group with China joining them in the knockout round.
China has certainly improved their stock since the draw. We initially expected Saudi Arabia to advance, but now we’re having a change of heart.
China PR: 5.39
Saudi Arabia: 3.13
Korea DPR: 1.97
Update after Round 1:
A very solid group top to bottom, Group C is basically what you’d hope for at a draw. We expect the group to finish in the order they were drawn, indicating a very fair group. We have Iran and UAE ranked as 2 of the best 4 teams in the field. But Qatar is no slouch, and after last month’s Gulf Cup, Bahrain is willing to park the bus and force your hand. We really like Iran in this group and would be very surprised if they were unable to advance. They proved at the World Cup that they can compete on the big stage. We give them almost a 60% chance of winning two games. This may be the tournament where UAE returns to prominence, but there is a big issue in Group C. The team that finishes in 2nd place will likely meet Japan in the Quarterfinals. That’s not good. Winning this group is key, and we think it’ll be Iran.
Qatar is improving and is not far off in quality from UAE, so it is very possible that they join Iran in the knockout round. For now, we’ll stick with Iran/UAE as our two to advance. We give UAE a 55.8% chance to advance and Qatar a 43.2% chance. Very close indeed.
United Arab Emirates: 4.32
Update after Round 1:
Japan is far and away the most talented team in this group. We think they’re the best team in Asia, and the draw was awfully kind to them as well. Jordan, Iraq and Palestine aren’t terrible teams by any stretch of the imagination, but they are simply not on the same level in quality. We give Japan a 65% chance of finishing this group perfect and a 95% chance of winning at least two games. We also have them with a 97.5% chance of advancing, so if they do not, it will arguably be the biggest shock of the tournament. That’s huge. But after that, the waters are much murkier. Each of the other three teams certainly has a shot to get through. If anyone is able to get points against Japan, it will be huge. If not, it becomes a 3 match round robin. And again, if any team is able to get a win in those 3 matches, it will carry a lot of weight.
We give the slight edge to Jordan but project them to finish with less than 4 points. You may see a 4, 2, 1 among the bottom three, but perhaps something even closer than that. Palestine got as good a draw as could be hoped for.
Update after Round 1:
We are projecting the knockout round to look like this:
Korea Republic vs. China PR
Iran vs. Jordan
Uzbekistan vs. Australia
Japan vs. United Arab Emirates
Really going out on a limb to support the 2014 World Cup teams, but they are currently the best Asia has to offer. We’ll be back after the group stage with some more analysis.
Thanks for reading!