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Asian Cup 2019: DW's group stage predictions

With the 2019 Asian Cup kicking off on Saturday, DW takes a look at each group and predicts which teams will make the knockouts. Traditional regional powers and emerging teams face differing levels of expectation.

The 2019 Asian Cup will see 24 teams compete for the first time in history. Split into six groups, the top two teams from each group will be joined by the four best third-placed sides in the knockout rounds.

Group A: Bahrain, India, Thailand, UAE

Hosts United Arab Emirates will be desperate to cash in on their "Golden Generation", who are facing a final chance to fulfill the moniker. Despite losing star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman to injury, this side should be aiming for top spot and will instead rely on Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkout to fire up front.

Thailand are looking to make their mark after a 12-year absence from the Asian Cup. They possess exciting attacking talents, such as Chanathip Songkrasin and Teerasil Dangda, but Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac's defensive system is a worry. Second should be a minimum aim.

Third place will likely be claimed by whoever wins in the head-to-head clash between India and Bahrain. India are an emerging nation while Bahrain has regressed and the match will be a clear indicator of where each team lies.

Prediction: UAE, Thailand, India, Bahrain

Group B: Australia, Jordan, Palestine, Syria

Russland, WM 2018: Gruppe C: Frankreich - Australien, Tor Australien
(Reuters/T. Hanai)

Australia are heavy favorites for Group B

Defending champions Australia should have little trouble topping Group B. But with injuries to Aaron Mooy, Martin Boyle and Daniel Arzani, and Mathew Leckie doubtful, their title defence is in doubt.

Syria should continue to surprise the football world with a second-place finish. A shaky defence may be their downfall but a promising strike partnership of Omar Al-Soma and strike partner Omar Khribin, as well as a strong team spirit, could see them through.

Challenging Syria for second place will be Jordan, but an inexperienced coach in Belgian Vital Borkelmans and a chaotic football association will see them struggle. Enjoying the promising Musa Al-Taamari could be the best Jordan fans can hope for.

Palestine were the whipping boys in their debut 2015 tournament, and while they've dramatically improved they will still struggle to get out of the group. This team could provide a shock, though.

Prediction: Australia, Syria, Palestine, Jordan

Group C: China, Kyrgyzstan, South Korea, Philippines

In "Group of Death”, South Korea should easily top the standings and set themselves up for a first title since 1960. With players now exempt from military service after winning the Asian Games, expect a return to free-flowing, attacking football.

Poster boy Son Heung-min will miss the first two matches, so youngster Hwang In-beom may need to step up and ensure the Koreans off to a strong start.

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The Philippines qualify for first Asian Cup

Kyrgyzstan is not a household name in the football world but they've come a long way in the past three years. Under Russian coach Aleksandr Krestinin, the team is tactically astute and they could steal second place.

That all depends on the match against China, who are dealing with an ageing squad and a coach in Marcello Lippi who is leaving after the Asian Cup and has stayed too loyal to his old guard, including Zheng Zhi (38), Gao Lin (32) and Feng Xiaoting (33). China could be the first "big” nation to fall.

The Philippines are a true underdog and little will be expected in their debut Asian Cup. The Azkals (Street Dogs) could spring a few shocks in this group, though, and don't write them off making it to the knockouts.

Prediction: South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, China, Philippines

Group D: Iran, Iraq, Vietnam, Yemen

Iran are a clear favorite to take home the trophy and should finish top. Coach Carlos Queiroz has been in charge since 2011 and has created an exceptionally organized team mixed with vibrancy and pace in attack. They were unlucky not to make the knockouts at the World Cup.

Second place will be up for grabs between Iraq, a known quantity who won the Cup in 2007, and Vietnam, a true up-and-comer. Both teams are brimming with youth but Iraq's chaotic off-field problems – with six coaches in four years – could harm their chances.

Vietnam would be the team to benefit. They have bright future with an average age of just 23, led by Nguyen Quang Hai. The only thing holding them back is the conservative tactics of Korean coach Park Hang-seo.

Yemen are making their Asian Cup debut and it's likely to be a steep learning curve. With the country suffering from a brutal civil war, there is no professional league and a severe lack of matches. Competing will be the main aim.

Carlos Queiroz (Getty Images/C. Mason)

Carlos Queiroz has made Iran a tough nut to crack

Prediction: Iran, Iraq, Vietnam, Yemen

Group E: Lebanon, North Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia

With the 2022 World Cup on the horizon, Qatar are determined to put on a good show. Spaniard Felix Sanchez boasts an exciting young side that could shock in the UAE. With a nice mix of experience (captain Hassan Al-Haydos) and youth (forward Akram Afif), don't be surprised to see this team top Group E and make a deep run in the knockouts.

Saudi Arabia will be expected to top the group and they certainly have the goods to lay claim as a dark horse in the tournament. Playing a more expansive brand of football, their hopes rest on the midfield duo of Salman Al-Faraj and Abdullah Otayf and winger Salem Al-Dawsari.

North Korea is, for obvious reasons, largely an unknown force when it comes to football though are typically defensive and workmanlike. The selection of overseas-based players Han Kwang Song, Jong Il Gwan and Pak Kwang Ryong is a promising sign though.

The Koreans will battle with Lebanon for third spot, a team which went on a 13-match unbeaten run under Montenegrin coach Miodrag Radulovic. That included a 5-0 thumping of North Korea on home soil.

Prediction: Qatar, Saudia Arabia, North Korea, Lebanon

Group F: Japan, Oman, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan

Coach Hajime Moriyasu has axed Japan's aging stars and will put his faith in a youthful group as the Blue Samurai aim to win a fifth Asian Cup title. An experienced backline of Maya Yoshida, Hiroki Sakai and Yuto Nagatomo will be crucial as well as midfield maestro Gaku Shibasaki. First place should be a breeze.

Youth football in Uzbekistan is progressing nicely, with appearances in the 2013 and 2015 Under-20 World Cups. It will be tough for them to go far in the UAE, though midfielder duo Odil Akhmedov (100 caps) and Odilijon Hamrobekov (9 caps) form a nice mix of youth and experience.

Oman are a tough nut to crack under German coach Holger Osieck, they rarely concede and will use those strengths to frustrate opponents. However a 5-0 loss to Australia at the end of December shows where they are in the Asian football pyramid. Second place is plausible but third is more likely.

Turkmenistan are huge underdogs and depend heavily on their team spirit and physicality. A lack of flair and a squad based almost exclusively in a weak home league should see them finish bottom of Group F.

Prediction: Japan, Uzbekistan, Oman, Turkmenistan

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