AFC Asian Cup 2019 Group B: A bunch of tough cookies!

Group B of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup is not quite the proverbial group of death, but it’s one which includes the defending champion (Australia) and an Asian heavyweight (Syria).

The Australians are the reigning AFC Asian Cup champions, having won the title on home soil in 2015.   -  Reuters

It may not be a given, but a premier football tournament starting with two or three competitive groups is not entirely unexpected. A group made up of, say, three equally good teams may be classified as the group of death, with a heavyweight potentially getting knocked out at the preliminary stage.

The randomness of the draw also means some groups will be relatively easier to qualify from than others.

Group B of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 is not quite the proverbial group of death, but it is one which includes the defending champion (Australia), an Asian heavyweight (Syria) and two other teams (Jordan and Palestine) which are likely to jostle for third place to move into the competition for the four best third-placed teams.

Australia qualified for the finals draw by winning its group in the second round of World Cup-cum-Asian Cup qualifying. Syria qualified as one of the best second-placed teams from the same round. Jordan won its group in the third round of Asian Cup qualifying, while Palestine finished runner-up in its group at the same stage of qualifying.

Australia finished third in Group C in World Cup 2018, failing to win any of its three matches, but the Graham Arnold-coached team has since won two of its friendlies against 81st-ranked Lebanon and 158th-ranked Kuwait and drawn 1-1 with South Korea, ranked 53rd.

Raring to defend: Australia, the defending champion, in action against Lebanon in a friendly match in Sydney recently. Some of the Australian players who figured in the 2015 Cup-winning squad, are there this time, too.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

Syria has had a mixed bag of results leading up to the Asian Cup, with two draws, two wins and two losses in international friendlies in the last three months.

Jordan has enjoyed a good workout with friendly fixtures against Croatia, the finalist at Russia 2018, and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Palestine has played four friendlies since November, though it has already played high-profile friendlies against China and Qatar, among others.

They play each other last and the match might not have much riding on it, but Australia vs Syria is the fixture to look forward to in this group. The two teams met in last year’s World Cup qualifier playoff and the Socceroos won 3-2 on aggregate to secure a group-stage berth for Russia 2018. The 99th-ranked Palestine and 109th-ranked Jordan are unlikely to stop Australia and Syria from finishing in the top two, but the stakes will be high in the fixture involving them.

Full of experience: Syria has had a mixed bag of results leading up to the Asian Cup, but it is an experienced side.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

In Mat Ryan, Mathew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, to name a few, Australia has players who were part of its 2015 Asian Cup-winning squad. Syria, Jordan and Palestine do not have Australia’s pedigree and neither have they been regulars in this competition. But they are not short of international experience as such.

For example, Amer Shafi, Jordan’s goalkeeper and captain, who scored a spectacular goal in the October friendly against India, has 139 international caps to his name. Ibrahim Alma (43 appearances), Nadim Sabagh (43), Moayad Ajan (42), Zaher Midani (52), to name a few, make Syria an experienced outfit.

The team which finishes second in Group B will face the second-placed team in Group F in the round of 16. The group winner will face a best third-placed team.

Group B fixtures

January 6: Australia vs Jordan, Syria vs Palestine

January 10: Jordan vs Syria

January 11: Palestine vs Australia

January 15: Australia vs Syria, Palestine vs Jordan

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