Fifty per­cent done!

Sportstar - - GROUP F - AMAL JOHN

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

GETTY IMAGES

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.

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