AFC Asian Cup: Knockout Stage Preview

The group stage of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 finished yesterday, leaving the competition with 16 teams left in contention. The top two teams of each group advanced, along with the top 4 third-place teams.

So far the pre-tournament favourites have underperformed. Japan lost to Group D winners Iraq and didn’t look convincing in their wins against Indonesia and Vietnam. South Korea was also a let down in the group stage, only managing the one win to go with two draws. 

Japan v Indonesia: Group D - AFC Asian Cup
IMAGO / NurPhoto

Yet another one of the top teams that were underwhelming in the groups was Australia. Although they were able to secure wins against both Syria and India, they looked sluggish in doing so. The Aussies also ended up drawing against Uzbekistan, a match they should’ve won easily.

The only three teams to win all three of their group stage matches were Qatar, Iran and Iraq. While both teams were considered strong sides going into the competition, neither was expected to top their group. It will be interesting to see if they can continue their winning ways with the pressure of the knockout stage.

Key Round of 16 Matchups

Australia vs Indonesia: Sun 28th Jan at Al Rayyan

Australia will take on Indonesia to kick off the Round of 16 on Sunday in Al Rayyan. While the Australian team hasn’t been at its best, they should make easy work of Indonesia. 

The Indonesian team finished third in Group D, finishing with three points after their 1-0 victory against Vietnam. After losing handily against both Iraq and Japan in their other two matches, they haven’t shown they have what it takes to compete with the stronger teams.

Expect the Australian team to make it through to the quarter finals to face the winner of the South Korea vs. Saudi Arabia match.

Tajikistan vs United Arab Emirates: Sun 28th Jan in Al Rayyan

The United Arab Emirate finished in second place in Group C, just ahead of Palestine who also collected 4 points. After having a close game against group winners, Iran, UAE has proved they have the potential to cause an upset. 

Tajikistan also finished in second place in their group, with one win, one loss and a draw. Their loss came against group winners Qatar, after a red card had them down a player for the end of the game.

This seems to be one of the more evenly matched knockout stage matchups, which could go either way.

Saudi Arabia vs South Korea: Tue 30th Jan at Al Rayyan

Arguably the exciting matchup in the round of 16 is between tournament favourites South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Much was expected of both teams entering the tournament but neither has lived up to the hype.

South Korea ended up finishing second behind Bahrain after a 3-3 draw against Malaysia in their final game. South Korea were huge frontrunners to win their group and will be extremely disappointed that they could only muster the one win in three matches.

The Saudi team came from behind to defeat Oman with a late goal in their opener but then had a frustrating 2-0 defeat to Kyrgyzstan. They then were held without scoring against Thailand in a draw.

No one expected South Korea or Saudi Arabia to be knocked out in the round of 16 but only one team would come out victorious. South Korea are considered favourites but the Saudi team has enough big names to very easily cause an upset.

Bahrain vs Japan: Wed 31st Jan at Doha

Bahrain earned the top spot in Group E but will face the unenviable task of taking on Japan in their first knockout stage match. While Japan hasn’t been in top gear, they are still one of the most dangerous sides in the tournament with huge firepower offensively.

If Japan can get past Bahrain they will most likely face Iran in the quarterfinals which should be the team’s toughest test yet. Iran will first however have to get past Syria who ended third in Group B, behind Australia and India.

Round of 16 Fixtures

  • Jan 28: Australia vs Indonesia
  • Jan 28: Tajikistan vs UAE
  • Jan 29: Iraq vs Jordan
  • Jan 29: Qatar vs Palestine
  • Jan 30: Uzbekistan vs Thailand
  • Jan 30: Saudi Arabia vs South Korea
  • Jan 31: Bahrain vs Japan
  • Jan 31: Iran vs Syria