With less than a week left for the 2019 AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup to get underway, the continent’s 24 best teams are set to descend in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The 17th edition of the continental competition sees the participating teams drawn into six groups of four teams each.
Here, Goal takes a look at Group E comprising of heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon and DPR Korea.
Making their 10th appearance in the competition are three-times champions Saudi Arabia. The Green Falcons have been one of the traditional powerhouses of the competition but their recent record in the Asian Cup has left plenty to be desired.
First and fore most on the mind of Saudi Arabia will be making it through to the knockouts given the fact that they have crashed out of the group-stages itself in the last three editions of the competition.
Led by coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, Saudi Arabia had an eventful campaign in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia where they registered a win over an Egypt side led by Mohamed Salah.
Pizzi’s men have played a host of friendlies over the last three months including a 0-2 defeat to Brazil and a 2-2 draw against Bolivia.
Key players - Omar Hawsawi, Abdullah Otayf
Like Saudi Arabia, Qatar too are making their 10th appearance in the Asian Cup. Coached by former Barcelona youth team coach Felix Sanchez, Qatar come into the tournament with a squad which contains both youth and experience.
With the country set to become the first Arab nation to ever host a FIFA World Cup come 2022, most of Qatar’s preparations have surrounded around developing a world-class football team for the global showpiece.
The Asian Cup will provide the perfect opportunity to gauge the team’s strengths heading into the World Cup for Sanchez who was formerly employed with the youth squads.
The Maroons have been preparing well for the Asian Cup with a notable friendly win against Switzerland along with victories against Jordan and Kyrgyz Republic.
Key players - Hassan Al-Haydos, Akram Afif
Lebanon are making only their third-ever appearance in the Asian Cup with the team yet to advance past the group-stages in the two previous attempts.
The team is coached by Montenegro’s Miodrag Radulovic and has the capabilities to cause a few potential upsets.
However, the team’s preparations for the Asian Cup does not look too promising even though they have played a spate of quality opponents.
Lebanon had to taste defeats against Australia, Bahrain and Kuwait and were held to draws by Oman and Uzbekistan since they secured their berth in the 2019 Asian Cup.
Key players - Hassan Maatouk
The North Koreans are making their fifth appearance in the competition with a fourth-place in the 1980 edition held in Kuwait being their highest finish till date.
It will be a tough ask for the Kim Yong-Jun coached team to make a splash in the UAE but he does have at his disposal four players who ply their trade in the various leagues of Europe.
Although DPR Korea did manage to hold Vietnam to a 1-1 draw in a friendly fixture held on Christmas day, they will be coming into the tournament on the back of a resounding 0-4 loss to Bahrain where they were second best in all departments.
Key players – Jong Il-Gwan, Han Kwag-Song