When dissecting the favourites to win the World Cup, pundits and fans alike immediately look to the European and South American sides as the most likely challengers. That is understandable, with countries from either of those continents having won every FIFA World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1930.
However, with the game boasting more global appeal than ever before – we’re beginning to see the emergence of footballing nations in other parts of the world. One such continent which continues to improve is Asia, whose talent pool consists of elite players competing in a some of the most competitive top-flight football competitions.
With that in mind, read on as we take a look at the six Asian teams who will be at this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
For those who enjoy a long shot and are likely to bet on World Cup at Skybet.com, Japan are the shortest of the Asian nations to win it all in Qatar, paying 200/1.
Host nation Qatar will kick off the World Cup’s proceedings against Ecuador on Sunday November 20. The 2019 Asian Cup champions take mixed form into the World Cup, winning only two of their last eight friendlies – to coincide with strong performances at the FIFA Arab Cup and CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2021, where they reached the semi-final stage in both tournaments.
That inconsistency will be a cause for concern for the Felix Sanchez-managed side – however – with the home crowd behind them – they have the potential to cause some headaches. Additionally, given it’s their first World Cup campaign – they are playing with house money.
Taeguk Warriors fans will be breathing a collective sigh of relief after it was recently confirmed that their superstar Son Heung-Min will be fit to play. The Tottenham Hotspur forward and reigning Premier League Golden Boot winner was questionable for the sport’s leading showpiece after suffering a fractured eye-socket in his team’s 2-1 victory over Marseille earlier this month.
With Son’s inclusion, South Korea’s chances of reaching the round of 16 for the first time since 2010 improve drastically. They aren’t favoured in the betting lines to do so however, with Uruguay and Portugal the two nations in their group expected to reach the knockout stages.
Japanese footballers are often a talented and disciplined outfit who underperform at major tournaments. In spite of reaching the round of 16 in three of their last six World Cup appearances, the Samurai Blue have failed to get over that hump and go any further. However, if their two most recent performances are anything to go by, they could be a surprise packet in Qatar. With a 2-0 win over an up-and-coming USA team and a 3-0 victory against Asian rivals South Korea – manager Hajime Moriyasu couldn’t have asked for better preparation.
A large part of Japan’s hopes rests on the shoulders of their star player Junya Ito, whose starring role at Belgian club Genk last season saw him earn a contract with Ligue 1 outfit Reims last summer. While the 29-year-old is a relative unknown on the international stage, Ito’s explosive speed, vision and finishing ability will prove crucial if Japan are to experience any success at this World Cup.
They have a difficult group however, with heavyweights Spain and Germany widely tipped to be the two teams to progress out of Group E.
The Socceroos have struggled to recreate their round of 16 heroics in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where they went down 1-0 to eventual champions Italy in stoppage time. With less than stellar campaigns in the three World Cups subsequent – Graham Arnold’s men will be looking to upset the applecart and steal an unlikely top two spot in Group D.
Unfortunately for Aussie fans, they have arguably the toughest group, with defending champions France and Euro 2020 semi-finalist Denmark their biggest challenges. They will take confidence from four years ago however, as they narrowly lost to the French 2-1 and drew with the Danes 1-1 at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The Socceroos are a very top-heavy side, and will only go as far as Aaron Mooy and Ajdin Hrustic takes them. Their opening fixture will be against France on November 22, followed by Tunisia and Denmark on November 26 and November 30 respectively.
Although much isn’t expected of Saudi Arabia this World Cup, they have proven over the years a very difficult team to break down. Having conceded just nine goals in their past 16 international appearances, the Middle Eastern nation make you work hard for your spoils. They will need every ounce of their defensive prowess if they’re to progress to the round of 16 for the first time since 1994, with formidable teams Argentina, Mexico and Poland rounding out Group C.
All three of their opponents have world-class finishers – including Lionel Messi for Argentina, Hirving Lozano for Mexico and Poland’s Robert Lewandowski just a handful of threats they’ll face in their group games.
While it’s highly unlikely that they’ll make any significant noise in Qatar – if they can frustrate their opposition and keep the scores low – stranger things have happened.
The highest ranked nation at this year’s World Cup (20th), Iran will be hoping they can cause a few upsets and steal a round of 16 spot. If they can stun England in their opener on November 20 – they’ll take a huge amount of confidence into their remaining fixtures against an unproven United States team and a Wales outfit who have qualified for the first time since 1958.
That remains improbable though, with Iran paying very short odds of 5/6 to finish bottom of Group B.