5 January ~ His club are sponsored by a Thai brewery, but Everton manager David Moyes is clearly not a fan of the Asian Cup. Specifically Moyes is troubled by the loss of talismanic midfielder Tim Cahill for the three-week tournament, which kicks off in Doha on January 7 with a clash between hosts Qatar and highly fancied Uzbekistan. Should Australia reach the final in only their second Asian Cup appearance, Cahill will miss several key fixtures for the Toffees, including a trip to Anfield for the Merseyside derby.

Lucas Neill predicted Australia would win the 2007 tournament undefeated, but an embarrassing quarter-final exit means the Socceroos have sensibly avoided making such bold proclamations this time around. Australia are wary of a group-stage showdown with South Korea, who remain one of the favourites to lift the cup despite the absence of Monaco striker Park Chu-young. A goal celebration gone wrong cost Park his participation in Asia’s premier international tournament, when the young striker bizarrely injured his knee after scoring against Sochaux. Captain Park Ji-sung now takes on more goal-scoring responsibility than ever, and the Manchester United midfielder is desperate to win in what is expected to be his international swansong.

North Korea will again lean heavily on Bochum striker Jong Tae-se – he of the famous teary-eyed anthem during the World Cup – but rumours of widespread discontent within the squad mean they are unlikely to be a force in Qatar. Instead it’s East Asian rivals Japan, now coached by Italian veteran Alberto Zaccheroni, whom many expect to challenge.

The one-time Milan manager has a star-studded squad to call upon, with all eyes on CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda as he continues to attract interest from a host of English clubs. Borussia Dortmund starlet Shinji Kagawa has also been called up after missing out on Japan’s World Cup squad, and if the pair can click then Japan have a real chance of a fourth Asian Cup trophy.

Defending champions Iraq stunned the world by winning the title four years ago, but they’ve been drawn in a tough group and an opening clash against regional rivals Iran could be one of the early highlight fixtures. Iran are misfiring in front of goal and struggling for self-belief, and they haven’t been helped by the news coach Afshin Ghotbi has already agreed to take over at Japanese club Shimizu S-Pulse once the tournament concludes.

West Asian football in general has been in the doldrums since the last Asian Cup, but Iran and traditional heavyweights Saudi Arabia look the most likely to challenge in the relatively hospitable confines of Qatar. The hosts themselves will be looking to turn in a credible performance, not least due to the global media spotlight thrust upon them after FIFA’s decision to award them hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar are unlikely to launch a giant-killing run all the way to the final, but whatever happens to French coach Bruno Metsu’s side, the unpredictable nature of Asian football should ensure an absorbing tournament nonetheless. Mike Tuckerman

Comments (4)
Comment by Blackmac79 2011-01-06 10:51:49

Looking forward to Australia lifting our first major piece of silverware!

Moyes (while I'm an Everton fan) needs to grow up and realise that like the African Cup of Nations, this too is a FIFA sanctioned tournament. Stop whinging. It is time that Europe started to respect Asia as the future of footballing expansion.

Carn Australia!

Comment by Craig van Fostinho 2011-01-06 11:53:39

Australia's top XI will have to be a major improvement on the dross that was served up vs UAE by the understudies yesterday/today.

Of course the fact that the perpetual understudy Osieck has chosen such wonderful players as the lumpen Brad Jones (another perpetual understudy) fills everyone with wide-eyed hope.

Australia will be hoping for another one man show or three from Cahill, that Neill has failed to read the fawning press that he gets here, and that one of the young players will show some sign that the fading Kewell can be replaced. If not, then semis will be a major achievement.

Comment by meregreen 2011-01-06 17:26:39

To be fair to Moyes, he did point out that when he signed Cahill, Australia weren't in the Asian confederation, so he had no idea that he could lose him for up to four weeks at the busiest time of the season.

"It is time that Europe started to respect Asia as the future of footballing expansion."

What does that even mean?

Comment by Craig van Fostinho 2011-01-06 22:20:44

Moyes is desperate not to lose his most efficient player. He runs the risk of coming across as a mean-spirited, second-rate Alex Ferguson. If managers are happy to employ players from all around the world, they need to accept that those players have a right to play for their country - even if that country is the unheralded distant land of Straya.

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