Being the most successful team of the tournament, all eyes will be on Japan when they take the field against Turkmenistan on January 9 in their first group match of the Asian Cup.
In fact, Japan is one of the main contenders to lift the title, having some wonderful players in the ranks and an intelligent coach at the helm. The four-time Asian Cup winners have played superbly in the World Cup and will try to add another feather in the cap of the country.
With all group stage opponents relatively lower ranked than them, Japan might have already started preparing for the pre-quarterfinals. If they finish top in the group standings, Japan will probably face Qatar in the last-16 match. If they win that, Australia will probably be waiting for them. If Japan can beat the defending champions, they could have an upper hand against Iran in the semi-finals.
Let us look at the present situation and analyze the reasons why Japan could win the title this time.
#3 Rich history in the tournament
Japan, long been the best team in the continent, will go to the Asian Cup with the sole aim, to win the tournament. Japan have last won the tournament in 2011 and eight years is a long time for a champion team like Japan to wait.
They had a dismal campaign last time around, 2015, when they were beaten by a lower ranked United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the quarter-final.
After developing their domestic football, Japan started making their presence felt on the international arena in the 1990s. Their domestic league became more professionalized, it was completely revamped and players were offered more lucrative contracts. Japan went on to host the Asian Cup in 1992 and won it, beating Saudi Arabia in the final.
They were becoming the most lethal team in Asia with each passing year. The 2000 Asian Cup was more competitive in nature, having found greater coverage. Japan thrashed Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan in the group stages before defeating Saudi Arabia again in the final.
The co-hosting of 2002 World Cup made Japan the giant of the continent and the country made a name for themselves with an impressive performance at the global stage. In the four editions of the Asian Cup in this century, Japan has won two of it, with the last one coming in 2011.
Japan is a perennial favorite for this tournament due to their long and rich history and one would not be surprised if the Blue Samurai's lift the title on February 1.