The AFC Asian Cup 2019 which is being hosted in the United Arab Emirates is just around the corner. With only six days to go for the mega tournament, preparations are in full swing at the moment.
The four-time Champions Japan are one of the clear favorites to win the tournament and the defending Champions Australian are not far behind. The squads have been announced and teams are gearing up for the mega event.
The group consists of Iran, Iraq, Vietnam, and Yemen. There are two former Champions in Group D, Iran and Iraq. Iran last won the title in 1976 while Iraq's title success came recently in 2007. These two are teams are favorites to progress from Group D.
Here in this article, we take a look at Group D.
The biggest name in the group and the three-time title winners. Ranked 29 in the current FIFA Rankings, Iran is one of the strongest teams in the tournament. Carlos Queiroz, the Portuguese coach of Iran, will aim for the trophy and nothing else will be an acceptable result for Iran.
Iran's coach Carlos Queiroz prefers the 4-2-3-1 formation which can quickly transform into a 4-3-3 whenever the need arises. Iran depends a lot on their defensive stability and that would be one of their main strong points going into the tournament.
Iran would want their star, Alireza Jahanbakhsh who plays for Brighton & Hove Albion in the EPL to be their leading man in the middle of the pitch. Ruben Kazan striker Sardar Azmoun will have the responsibility of getting the goals.
Ali Reza Safarbeiranvand (Persepolis F.C.), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Brighton & Hove Albion), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan)
Iran group fixtures
vs Yemen, 7th January (Abu Dhabi)
vs Vietnam, 12th January (Abu Dhabi)
vs Iraq, 16th January (Dubai)
The 2007 winners have been a force to reckon with in recent years. Their rise since 2007 has been phenomenal in the Asian circuit despite the country getting drawn into repeated civil wars. Iraq finished the last edition of the AFC Asian Cup in fourth place.
With few of their players playing in Europe and Iran, it will boost Iraq's capability in the tournament. Iran based players would also give Iraq a slight advantage of knowing the way the Iranians play.
Head Coach Srecko Katanec likes to play in a traditional 4-4-2. Iraq will look at left back Ali Adnan Kadhim their biggest star who plays in Italy in Atlanta.
Iraq group fixtures
vs Vietnam, 8th January (Abu Dhabi)
vs Yemen, 12th January (Sharjah)
vs Iran, 16th January (Dubai)
Vietnam has been having a dream run in football this year and hopes that the new year brings in even better fortunes compared to the 2018 calendar year. They finished runners-up in the AFC Asian U23 Championships this year for the first time in their history. They defeated Australia and Iraq in the U23 championship and hope this team under the tutelage of the same South Korean coach Park Hangeso can manage a similar feat.
Vietnam has one of the youngest squads in the tournament with an average age of 23. A lot of the U23 players have been drafted into the Asian Cup squad as Vietnam hope to repeat their U23 Championship feat.
Vietnam also won the Suzuki AFF Cup in 2018 and are high on confidence coming into the tournament. They rely on quick counter attacks and fast attacks down the flanks to get past the opponents.
Youngster Nguyen Tien Linh is becoming a force to reckon with. Experienced campaigner Nguyen Trọng Hoàng will also have to shoulder a lot of responsibility if Vietnam are to go the distance in the tournament.
Vietnam group fixtures
vs Iraq, 8th January (Abu Dhabi)
vs Iran, 12th January (Abu Dhabi)
vs Yemen, 16th January (Al Ain)
Yemen will play in their first ever AFC Asian Cup in 2019. Yemen was one of the last teams to finalize their spots in the qualification process was the last gulf nation to book their place in the mega event.
Yemen managed to win six games out of the 18 they played during qualification. They conceded 23 goals and managed to score only 16. It was the five draws that helped them secure a ticket for UAE 2019.
Yemen has displayed a lot of character in recent times and are not easy to break down. They do tend to lose concentration when they concede a goal and will have to look to improve on that aspect if they are too get points in the Asian Cup.
They have played very little football in 2018 and will hope that the lack of matches doesn't hurt the results in the Asian Cup.
Ala Al-Sasi, the experienced midfielder, would be the leading man for Yemen in the middle of the park as he would look to marshall the troops. Abdulwasea Al Matari, the young forward who plays his club football in UAE, also holds the key to their fortunes.
Yemen group fixtures
vs Iran, 7th January (Abu Dhabi)
vs Iraq, 12th January (Sharjah)
vs Vietnam, 16th January (Al Ain)