Ali Mabkhout of UAE Image Credit: UAE FA

UAE

Coach: Alberto Zaccheroni
Star player: Ali Mabkhout
Previous appearances: nine
Best finish: runners-up 1996
Last time out: third, 2015
World ranking: 79

The injury of star player Omar Abdul Rahman, and a run of just two wins in the last 10 official matches under coach Alberto Zaccheroni, mean the hosts head into this tournament severely unfancied. They finished third in Australia four years ago, their best finish on foreign soil, and the last and only other time they played the tournament at home in 1996, they finished runners-up. Even in their current malaise, they should have enough about them to top this group, but looking beyond that they will need plenty of spirit and home support to do anything like they did in 2015.

THAILAND

Coach: Milovan Rejavic
Star player: Teerasil Dangda
Previous appearances: six
Best finish: third 1976
Last time out: group, 2007
World ranking: 118

A quick look at Thailand’s previous appearances in this competition, finishing third on their debut in 1976 before five consecutive group stage exits between 1992 and 2007, doesn’t inspire. A semi-final finish at the recent AFF Championship, where they lost on away goals to Malaysia, before the latter went on to lose in the final to Vietnam, also suggests they are a bit off the mark. They are still unbeaten in the last eight matches however and although they finished bottom of their third round World Cup qualifying group, they did so with home draws to Australia and the UAE.

INDIA

Coach: Stephen Constantine
Star player: Sunil Chhetri
Previous appearances: three
Best finish: runners-up 1964
Last time out: group, 2011
World ranking: 97

Lost the final of this year’s SAFF Championships to Maldives after fielding a second string squad, and now they come into this tournament without a win in the last four. Their last Asian Cup appearance in 2011, 27 years after the previous one, was a barrage, conceding 13 goals in total against Australia, Bahrain and South Korea. Back again thanks to the expanded format, if they can stay tight at the back and nick a result they may get out of the group as one of four best third-placed sides, especially thanks to support from the UAE’s large Indian expatriate community.

BAHRAIN

Coach: Miroslav Soukup
Star player: Abdullah Yousuf Helal
Previous appearances: five
Best finish: fourth, 2004
Last time out: group, 2015
World ranking: 113

Famously got to two consecutive World Cup qualifying play-offs before defeat to Trinidad and Tobago and New Zealand in 2006 and 2010, which for a country the size of Bahrain is incredible. This level hasn’t been maintained, but they remain a threat. They topped their group at the recent Gulf Cup before defeat to eventual champions Oman in the semis and come into this tournament with four wins in the last five matches, the last of which was a 4-0 thrashing of North Korea. Should follow UAE out of the group automatically leaving India and Thailand to scrap it out for third.