Asian Cup: Vietnam team to face three Western Asian rivals in “group of death”

Wednesday, 2019-01-02 17:53:13
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Although facing strong rivals the new format of the 2019 Asian Cup gives Vietnam a chance of reaching the knockout phase as one of the four-best third-placed teams. (Photo: Vietnam Football Federation)
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NDO – The national squad will encounter three West Asian teams in the upcoming 2019 Asian Cup in UAE which will kick-off later this week. Despite being in a group against strong rivals Iran and Iraq, as well as debutants Yemen who will need to prove much to make a surprise, a ticket to the knockout phase for coach Park Hang-seo's side is not a mission impossible.

In the tournament’s history, Vietnam have never met their Iranian and Yemeni rivals. As for Iraq, in the 2007 Asian Cup, after progressing past the group stage to the quarterfinals, the team lost to a strong Iraqi squad who were eventually crowned champions.

In this year’s competition, Iran are considered one of the title favourites. They have won the Asian Cup three times in 1968, 1972 and 1976, and this time they are bringing their best players to UAE, including 11 players who just narrowly missed out on the knockout phase at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Sardar Azmoun is the key player in the Iranian squad. The 1995 born striker has spent 7 years playing in Russia and is experienced in scoring goals with smart moves.

In addition, 22-year-old defender Majid Hosseini is also a bright star. At the 2018 World Cup, Hosseini and his teammates clashed with the Spanish and Portugal rivals and put in some very good performances.

With a handful of quality players in his squad, coach Carlos Queiroz will have no reason to exit the Asian Cup 2019 early.

The Iranian squad at the 2018 World Cup.

Iraq are also strong rivals in Group D, which is dubbed the group of death. The team are currently ranked 88th in the FIFA rankings and has once won the Asian Cup in 2007.

Iraq have always proved to be formidable opponents in the knockout phase and the evidence was seen at the 2015 Asian Cup, as Iraq eliminated Iran in the quarterfinals.

At this year’s Asian Cup, Iraq's key player is Hussein Ali, 22. Playing in Qatar, Ali is expected to shine in the UAE in the coming days.

In addition to Hussein Ali, another young Iraqi talent at the age of 18 is striker Mohanad Ali. His scoring ability at his club Al-Shorta and national team is impressive.

The Iraqi players are motivated by the perfect preparation for the upcoming Asian Cup, defeating both Palestine and China in two recent friendly matches. Therefore, the possibility that Iraq will win a ticket to the quarterfinals round is not out of their reach.

The Iraq squad.

The remaining team in Group D is Yemen. Although this is the first time they will compete in the largest continental football event, the Yemeni dream of causing a surprise. Yemen manager Jan Kocian said that the Asian Cup debutants are dreaming of upsetting the more established teams in the group.

“The target now is not easy,” Kocian said. “We are newcomers in this Asian Cup and want the best. Normally you want to win a game, but we can dream as a small country.

"Yemen can dream of big victories against Iran and Iraq. It’s normal. It may not be real, but we will try. The target is we want to win.”

The Yemen national side.

Thus, it can be seen that it is not easy for Park and his players in the group stage. Against Iran, the continent’s top team at 29th in the FIFA rankings, a win for Park’s side is unlikely.

But with the Iraqi team, many Vietnamese players certainly will not forget the clash in the AFC U23 Championship quarterfinals in early 2018, in which the ASEAN side earned a 3-3 draw after 120 minutes and then eliminated their rivals in the penalty shootout.

A positive result in their clash with Iraq on January 8 is completely within reach of the Vietnamese players. Some experts have said that the match will be decisive for the future of both two teams at the tournament.

Vietnam will head into the 2019 Asian Cup with confidence after being crowned champions at the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 in mid-December. (Photo: Vietnam Football Federation)

Yemen are unknown and full of surprises, however, against the lowest-ranked team in the competition at 135th in the world, Park’s side will have a chance to win if they still show their good form like during their recent AFF Suzuki Cup campaign.

Park’s target is to reach the Round of 16 as one of the four-best third-placed teams.