Son Heung-min could well be the star of the show.
Son Heung-min could well be the star of the show.

Main players chasing Asian Cup glory

THE Socceroos may be defending Asian Cup champions but in the likes of Japan, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia they are sure not get their own way over the next month in the UAE.

All four teams featured in last year's World Cup in Russia, with Japan reaching the round 16 while South Korea upstaged Germany and both Iran and Saudi Arabia picked up a win each.

Here is why they can win.

Japan

World Ranking: 50

Asian Cups: 4 (1992, 2000, 2004, 2011)

Key player: Maya Yoshida.

Asia's best performed team at the 2018 World Cup, where only a Belgian second-half comeback prevented the Blue Samarai from reaching the tournament's last eight.

The Socceroos will be chasing back-to-back Asian Cup titles in the UAE this month. Picture: Getty Images
The Socceroos will be chasing back-to-back Asian Cup titles in the UAE this month. Picture: Getty Images

Have twice been Australia's nemesis at the Asian Cup, defeating the Socceroos in the 2011 final and the 2007 quarter-finals.

Coach Hajime Moriyasu has yet to lose since taking over from Akira Nishino after the World Cup.

Iran

World Ranking: 29

Asian Cups: 3 (1968, 1972, 1976)

Key player: Sardar Azmoun

Led by former Real Madrid head coach Carlos Queiroz who has been in charge of Iran since 2011, leading them to the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.

One of the strongest teams in Asia historically, Iran have fallen at the quarter-finals in the past three Asian Cups including a penalty shoot-out loss to neighbours Iraq in 2015.

Australia have never faced Iran since becoming a part of the Asian Confederation with the last meeting being the ill-fated World Cup play-off at the MCG in 1997 where Khodadad Azizi's late strike ended the Socceroos campaign.

South Korea

World Ranking: 53

Asian Cups: 2 (1956, 1960)

Key player: Son Heung-min

Defeat to Australia in the 2015 Asian Cup final in Sydney means one of the giants of Asian football has now gone almost 60 years since winning the regional championship.

Tottenham winger Son Heung-min is possibly the biggest name at the tournament but won't feature until the knock-out stages due to an agreement between the Korean FA and the English Premier League club.

Experienced coach Paulo Bento is yet to lose in six matches since taking over in August and has picked a squad full of experience including Son, Newcastle United midfielder Ki Sung-yueng and Robbie Kruse's Bochum teammate Lee Chung-yong.

Saudi Arabia

World ranking: 69

Asian Cups: 3 (1984, 1988, 1996)

Key player: Fahad Al Muwallad

Regular World Cup attendees Saudi Arabia will be buoyed by this year's Asian Cup being hosted in neighbouring United Arab Emirates.

The Green Falcons won three titles in their first four appearances at the Asian Cup but have been eliminated in the group stages for three of the past four tournaments.

Juan Antonio Pizzi's decision to omit Nawaf Al Abed from his squad means the team's goals will have to come from somewhere else.

Al Abed's five strikes in the third round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup ensured they finished ahead of Australia and sent the Socceroos into a torturous play-off route to Russia.

News Corp Australia

Family fishing day to raise awareness about noxious fish

Family fishing day to raise awareness about noxious fish

Get free bait and wet your line to learn about pesky species.

Private haven with sea views

Private haven with sea views

The Whitsunday Times property of the week

Remembering the fallen: Proserpine Anzac services

Remembering the fallen: Proserpine Anzac services

Proserpine to pay tribute to those who have fought for their country