AFC Asian Cup: Who Will Win?

Who out of the top 24 teams in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) will take home the Asian Cup this year? Here’s a look at our top 3 favourites to take home the trophy this year.

Japan

Despite being defeated in the 2019 final, Japan comes into the tournament as the biggest favourite. They have already won 4 Asian Cup titles and are currently the highest ranked FIFA team (17th) in the competition. 

Since Coach Moriyasu took over the team in 2018, Japan has been able to achieve some impressive results. They made it past the group stage in the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, beating a number of top teams along the way like Germany and Spain.

The team itself will consist of a number of top club players. Four each who are playing in England and Germany, three each in France and Belgium and two each in Scotland and Netherlands. It should be noted that only five players remain from the 2019 Asian Cup side: Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal), Takumi Minamino (AS Monaco), Junya Ito (Stade de Reims) and Ritsu Doan (SC Freiburg).

The addition of Takefusa Kubo will be a big boost to the team as the Real Sociedad midfielder has been on fire in the past couple years. If Kubo can live up to his potential in Qatar, expect top clubs all across the world to line up for a contract in the summer.

Japan is unlikely to be troubled in the group stage by Vietnam, Iraq or Indonesia. Expect the team to make it to the backend of the tournament with relative ease. Japan have appeared in five of the last eight finals, so they will be the team to beat.

South Korea

South Korea has one of the biggest names in the competition in the form of Son Heung-min,  captain of a Premier League title-chasing team at Tottenham. The three-time Asian Footballer of the Year will be looking to add to his already impressive resume and lead his country deep into the competition.

South Korea hasn’t won the title since 1960 and were knocked out by Qatar in the quarterfinals in 2019. The team is getting older but stars like Kim Min-jae from Bayern Munich aree still at the top of their game. The defender from Napoli ended the club’s 33-year wait for a Serie A title last season and is expected to be the driving force of the back field.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward Lee Kang-in is another name to look out for in the competition. He could benefit greatly from all the attention Son will get from the opponent’s defenses. The two should be a very formidable pair on the offensive side of the ball. 

While South Korea definitely has the talent to lift the title, based on their past performances they may have a hard time getting past Japan. If they are to end their 60+ year drought, they will likely need Son to put the team on his back.

Saudi Arabia

It wasn’t long ago that Saudi Arabia was able to beat the mighty World Cup winning Argentina team in the group stage of Qatar 2022. Since then the Saudi Pro League has also undergone a huge transformation with the arrival of huge names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Sadio Mane and Neyma. This has allowed a number of Saudi players to gain experience that they couldn’t have gotten in the past.

Players to keep a keen eye for are Al Hilal’s Salem Al-Dawsari who kicked the winning goal against Argentina. He also won the Asian Footballer of the Year for 2022. Another key player who should have a big impact in the tournament is Firas Al-Buraikan. The 23-year-old has 16 goals and assists in 17 games for his club Al Ahli this season. This is the most by a Saudi national in the league.

In goal Nawaf Al-Aqidi is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, goalkeeper in Asia. The Al Nassr keeper has made a habit of stopping shots from some of the biggest names in football. We expect three-time winners and six-time finalists to make at least the semis this tournament.