Group E

Saudi Arabia

Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi

Previous appearances: Nine

Best finish: Champions: 1984, 1988, 1996

Last time out: Group 2015

World ranking: 69

Star player: Abdullah Otayf

Saudi Arabia are making their 10th appearance in the competition and the three-time champions are returning to the country where they won their last title in 1996. They will be looking to build on their 2018 Fifa World Cup campaign where they lost their opening match 5-0 to Russia before narrowly losing 1-0 to Uruguay and then defeating Egypt 2-1. Since the World Cup, Pizzi’s men have played five friendlies — defeating Yemen 1-0 and settling for draws with Bolivia (2-2), Iraq (1-1) and Jordan (1-1). They lost 2-0 to Brazil. Abdullah Otayf has been a revelation for Saudi Arabia and will hold the key despite the presence of attacking players such as Salem Al Dawsari and Yahya Al Shehri.


Coach: Miodrag Radulovic

Previous appearances: One

Best finish: Group, 2000

Last time out: Group, 2000

World ranking: 81

Star player: Hassan Maatouk

Lebanon are making a comeback into the Asian Cup after a gap of 19 years. Their first appearance came back in 2000 when they hosted the event and didn’t progress beyond the group stages. The team enjoy plenty of support from their expat fans here in the UAE but their performance since qualifying for the tournament hasn’t been impressive. The Lebanese hopes will rely on their experienced skipper and forward Hassan Maatouk, who has spent a considerable amount of time playing in the UAE league. He is also one goal away from becoming the top scorer for the nation and has been the prolific scorer during the Asian Cup qualifiers. The team are coached by Montenegro’s Miodrag Radulovic and can spring up a surprise or two on their day. Since confirming their berth, Lebanon have lost against Australia, Bahrain and Kuwait and were held to draws by Oman and Uzbekistan.

North Korea

Coach: Kim Yong-jun

Previous appearances: Four

Best finish: Fourth, 1980

Last time out: Group, 2015

World ranking: 109

Star player: Jong Il-Gwan

The North Koreans are making their fifth appearance in the competition with a fourth place in the 1980 edition held in Kuwait being their highest finish till date.

Coach Kim Yong-jun has a tough task in hand given the group they are in. He has played as a midfielder for North Korea and has been the part of the squad that qualified for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. And hence he will definitely know the demands that come up with a coach’s job. DPR Korea will definitely not be making just the numbers and one can be assured of them going all out. In the run-up to the tournament, they did manage to hold Vietnam to a 1-1 draw on Christmas day but they lost 4-0 to Bahrain. The team will be heavily banking on the Jong Il-Gwan and Han Kwag-song to get the desired result in this campaign.


Coach: Felix Sanchez Bas

Previous appearances: Nine

Best finish: Quarter-finals (2000, 2011)

Last time out: Group, 2015

World ranking: 93

Star player: Abdulkarim Hassan

The host nation for the 2022 Fifa World Cup, Qatar are coming down with a development team to the UAE under former Barcelona youth team coach Felix Sanchez. The unit is a blend of both youth and experience with a sole aim to make a mark in four years’ time.

The tiny sea-locked nation will make their 10th appearance in the Asian Cup and will be hoping to improve on their quarter-final appearances of 2000 and 2011. Comprised largely of players from Al Duhail and 2018 AFC Champions League semi-finalists Al Sadd, the maroons have won warm-up matches against Jordan and Kyrgyzstan before losing narrowly to Algeria and Carlos Queiroz-coached Iran.

Group F


Coach: Hajime Moriyasu

Previous appearances: Eight

Best finish: Champions (1992, 2000, 2004, 2011)

Last time out: Quarter-finals, 2015

World ranking: 50

Star player: Ritsu Doan

Japan are the most successful side in Asian Cup history with four titles and they once again start as firm favourites. The Blue Samurai had been outstanding in the 2018 Fifa World Cup. They recorded an incredible 2-1 victory over Colombia and followed it up with a draw against Senegal. They lost their final group match to Poland but in the round of 16, they had rattled Belgium by taking a 2-0 lead before eventually losing 3-2.

Keep a close watch on Ritsu Doan, the 20-year-old, capable of playing in any position. With Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui and Shinji Okazaki all being sidelined from this tournament, Doan will have a great role to play. Japan also possess some high-profile talents such as Newcastle United’s Yoshinori Muto and Werder Bremen’s Yuya Osako who can implement coach Moriyasu’s possession football tactics to a tee.


Coach: Pim Verbeek

Previous appearances: Three

Best finish: Group (2004, 2007, 2015)

Last time out: Group, 2015

World ranking: 82

Star player: Mohammad Al Hosni

The 2017 Gulf Cup champions are on a role and will be looking to build on their eight-match unbeaten streak that has saw them climb the Fifa world rankings to 82. In fact, they remained unbeaten in the 2018 calendar year.

Coach Verbeek will be confident that his side can repeat the performance of their Gulf Cup where they beat the UAE 5-4 in a penalty shoot-out to clinch the title. They also finished ahead of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait in the group stages and stunned Bahrain in the semi-finals.

They will be without the services of their star goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, unfortunately ruled out with an injury just before the tournament. The team’s success will largely rely on Faiz Al Rushaidi and Mohammad Al Hosni.


Coach: Yazguly Hojageldyyew

Previous appearances: One

Best finish: Group, 2004

Last time out: Group, 2004

World ranking: 127

Star player: Altymyrat Annadurdyyew

Turkmenistan are another team that will be trying to make their presence felt in the tournament. So far they have only figured in the tournament once — way back in 2004 where they didn’t progress beyond the group stages. Then they had drawn with Saudi Arabia and lost to Iraq and Uzbekistan. Eleven of the 23-member squad are from the domestic champion team — Altyn Asyr. Star forward Altymyrat Annadurdyyew will be manager Yazguly Hojageldyyew’s trump card as he has contributed with eight goals for Altyn en route to the AFC Cup final. It was his goal against Chinese Taipei that ensured Turkmenistan a place in the Asian Cup finals. Resul Hojayev is another prodigy from Altyn can also made a huge impact.


Coach: Hector Cuper

Previous appearances: Six

Best finish: Fourth place 2011

Last time out: Quarter-finals 2015

World ranking: 95

Star player: Odiljon Xamrobekov

Uzbekistan have always been an unpredictable side but have lost a bit of sheen in recent times. This tournament gives them the prefect opportunity to redeem themselves. The former Valencia and Inter Milan manager Hector Cuper joined as head coach in 2018. Cuper had led Egypt during the 2018 World Cup in Russia and his vast experience will hold the key. The White Wolves’ Odil Ahmedov will have to provide the thrust given the decade-long stint he has had playing for the national team. His experience of playing in Europe with Russian clubs Anzhi Makhachkala, Krasnodar and for current club Shanghai SIPG in China will be more than handy. Odiljon Xamrobekov is another player who can make a difference as the youngster bagged the Most Valuable Player award in the 2018 AFC Under 23 Championship in China where Uzbekistan were crowned champions.