Rob Eddy provides his best bets for the Asian Cup, which kicks off in Qatar on Friday when the hosts face Lebanon.
This year’s Asian Cup begins on Friday with the opening match seeing hosts Qatar taking on Lebanon.
Just over 12 months on from hosting the World Cup, the Gulf nation is back in the spotlight as it welcomes Asia’s best teams to the country for this year’s competition.
Japan to win the Asian Cup @ 2/1
Qatar are also the defending champions this time around, after overcoming Japan 3-1 in the final four years ago.
However the team that they got the better of on that occasion look likely to go one better this time around.
The Blue Samurai are the most successful team in the history of this competition, having won it four times, and look set for a fifth this year.
Hajime Moriyasu’s side topped their group at the World Cup, getting the better of European heavyweights Spain and Germany to do so, and were only knocked out in a penalty shootout by Croatia in the round of 16.
They have been in impressive form since then, winning their last nine games in the build up to this tournament.
That includes a 4-1 success over Germany along with wins over Canada, Peru and Tunisia.
That level of form is simply unmatched in this field and they have been scoring goals with increasing regularity recently, netting 15 in their last three matches – all wins to nil over Myanmar, Syria and Thailand.
Captain Wataru Endo is starring for Liverpool, Kaoru Mitoma has impressed for Brighton this season and Takehiro Tomiyasu regularly shores up Arsenal’s defence.
The depth in their squad is evidenced by the fact that star Celtic striker Kyogo Furuhashi has not even made the group travelling to Qatar.
The only slight concern is that their most experienced goalkeeper Zion Suzuki has just four caps to his name and is just 21 years old.
Aside from that it is difficult to pick any holes in a squad that looks by far the most talented at the tournament and have the good recent form to match.
Australia to win the Asian Cup @ 13/2
Another team that has performed well at this tournament by reaching two of the last three Asian Cup finals and could be a spot of value is Australia.
The Socceroos finished as runners-up to France in their World Cup group just over 12 months ago and it took winners Argentina to get the better of them in the round of 16.
They have faced some tough assignments since then, losing to Argentina again as well as England, but they did beat Ecuador and drew with Mexico.
Any replication of that level of form would give them a good chance in this field and they look likely to run Japan close for the title.