Fifty percent done!
Japan is way in front. Oman, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have been left to vie for the second spot.
With Japan in the fray, half a prediction can easily be made about the outcome of Group F. Even Oman, the next highest ranked team in the group, may not be able to put up much of a resistance in the Samurai Blue’s path to the knockout stages and beyond. However, as the gap in quality closes among the lowerranked sides and with the general unpredictability of the tournament, the group could witness a threelegged race as Oman, Uzbekistan and neighbour Turkmenistan vie for the second spot.
Japan and Uzbekistan made it to the Asian Cup after topping their groups in the second round of qualification. Oman and Turkmenistan, which were in the same group in the second round, had to go through a third round to qualify for the tournament, where they find themselves grouped together again.
Japan scraped through the World Cup group stages, after a drab 10 defeat against Poland which drew comparisons to the Disgrace of Gijon, and was the only AFC team to qualify for the knockout stages. Its run was halted by an inspired Belgium comeback in a thriller of a roundof16 match, but the team and its fans, who built quite a reputation during the World Cup, have seemed to put those woes behind them. The Asian powerhouse has been unbeaten since the World Cup, posting wins in friendlies over Costa Rica and Uruguay, among others. Japan will try to carry this momentum into the Asian Cup as it looks to maintain its position as the tournament’s most successful team, having won it four times — 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2011.
Uzbekistan has suffered a big fall in rank
Top gun: Yuya Osako (No. 15) of Japan celebrates scoring a goal, with skipper Maya Yoshida (No. 22) during an international friendly against Kyrgyzstan on November 20, 2018 in Toyota, Japan. With talismanic midfielder Keisuke Honda having retired from international football after the World Cup and Shinji Kagawa’s omission from the squad, Yoshida is leading a rather young side at the Asian Cup.