With the highly anticipated AFC Asian Cup starting on January 12, the attention of the football world has once again turned to the Middle East.
The tournament will take place in Qatar, just a year after Qatar hosted the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
This year, the Maroons start the season as the defending champions, having won the cup after a 3-1 victory against Japan in 2019. Still, preparation for this tournament has been challenging, with coach Carlos Queiroz replaced by Marques Lopez in November.
Host country Qatar starts the tournament against Lebanon at the Lusail Stadium. The remaining matches will be played in Al Rayyan, Al Khor, Al Wakrah and Doha locations.
Japan is the most successful team of the tournament to date, with four wins. Team Japan came to Doha after their 5-0 victory against Thailand in Tokyo. Premier League stars Liverpool’s Wataru Endo, Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu and Brighton’s Kaoru Mitoma have been named in the Samurai Blue squad. Japan enters the competition as one of the favorites to win and will be seeking their fifth title.
Following Japan is Saudi Arabia, which has won the Asian Cup three times. They will be confident of having a strong tournament in 2023 as they have appointed Roberto Mancini as manager. The Italian has a strong track record after lifting the European Championship trophy with Italy in 2021. Saudi star Salem Al Dawsari was recently named Asian Player of the Year. 2023. The winger scores the winning goal against Argentina at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Al Dawsari is having a great season with local team Al Hilal, who are at the top of the Saudi Pro League.
Asian Cup Fan Ambassador Aaron Fernandes expects the Falcons to go further in the competition.
“Saudi will be an interesting team to watch. The excitement they created by beating Argentina in the World Cup. They were the only team to beat the world champions. Good record in this tournament and we need to see how they perform in the tournament. In the Asian Cup as well. Good signings in the domestic league too “It’s happening. Another famous coach, Roberto Mancini, is taking over. It will be a good tournament and it will be great to see different scenarios come true.”
Another important player to watch out for is Son Heung-Min. The Tottenham Hotspur captain won the ‘Asia’s Best Footballer’ award six times in a row between 2017 and 2022. Son hopes he can lead the South Korean team to their third Asian Cup victory.
Iran also has three Asian Cup titles to their name. Forward Mehdi Taremi will try to lead his team to its first win since 1986. The Porto striker scored 86 goals for his club and 41 goals for his country.
Australia will head into the race confident after a solid performance in Qatar in 2022. They are ranked 25th by FIFA after reaching the last 16 of the men’s World Cup. Australia beat Bahrain 2-0 in Abu Dhabi in their last friendly match before the AFC Asian Cup and will face India in their first tournament match.
Tournament excitement also increased on the fields. The AFC Asian Cup, held in Doha in December 2023, kicked off with a spectacular event. Official mascots were introduced, as well as cultural performances from many countries participating in the tournament.
Ahmed Al Maadheed, designer of the mascot, told Football Now that the launch highlights the family-friendly atmosphere of the tournament.
“We’re proud of our environment, and these animals are so fast in their natural environment. It’s great for the players because we give them a family. Because family is so important to us, to our community, to Asia. Family is the most important. The important factor in creating superheroes is that they look like their children and are united. So Solidarity is number one. So that’s the first message. We are all family and we are one.
For the competing countries, lifting the AFC Asian Cup is the number one priority. However, the tournament is also an opportunity to show off the field that the continent’s love for football continues. Qatar will once again fulfill its previous promise of successful international competition.