Four out of ten East Asian nations qualified for the Asian Cup, and there were Japan, South Korea, North Korea and China. At this point in the competition, all teams have played 2 matches each, and are going into their final group match with 3 out of 4 already qualified. Here is a quick rundown on how the tournament is going so far for sides from East Asia.
Japan has won both of their first two group games by a single goal margin, after suffering a minor scare in going behind against Turkmenistan they still managed to come back in that game and get a 3-2 victory. The attacking trident behind Osaka and Osaka himself look like one of the most complete attacking components at the tournament so far, even if they have started in somewhat of a stutter.
After the comeback win against Turkmenistan, Japan was lacklustre against Oman and possibly had the referee to thank for the win at the end of the match. As the ref gave Japan a penalty but decided against giving one to Oman for a handball that a lot of people on Twitter have been in a bit of a rage about as the screaming for VAR to fix all of the football world's problems continues. Japan scored the penalty and for all the outpouring of Twitter rage, neither Japan nor Oman really did much to win the game and a 0-0 draw would have been fair. For some reason, Japan seemed a little lackadaisical
during this game but did enough. That is what teams do who go far in a tournament, so even though they looked a bit plodding against Oman I expect them to get to the final.
Next up for Japan is a table-topping clash against Uzbekistan to see who will win the group.
As with Japan, they have done what has been needed so far and that is the sign of a team who can go far in tournament football. The next match for South Korea is a table-topping clash against China to see who will win the group, all the talk on Twitter is, if South Korea win then they will end up in the easier side of the draw, but the easier side of the draw also depends on how other teams finish up in their group.
If South Korea come out winners, and everything pans out as it's expected to, then on paper the most difficult side South Korea will find themselves playing will be Saudi Arabia and if that happens and South Korea overcome a Saudi side that is looking good then I would expect them to make the finals where if my predictions come true the other side would be Japan. The two teams I have seen so far who could put a hammer into my predictions are Saudi Arabia and Iran who have both impressed.
Wu Lei scored two magical goals against the Philippines and China will need him to be on top of his game for the duration of the competition if they are to get through to the business end of the tournament if he remains fit. The next game they will face off against South Korea in a table-topping decider. I can't see China winning but amazingly, China have outscored South Korea, so, therefore, China would only need a draw to top the group. If that happened it would be a brilliant result for China and a disaster for South Korea.
Things didn't get off to a good start for them against the Saudis who smashed four past them, and their star striker - Hwang Kwang-song was sent off in the first half after two bookings. In the Qatar game they were torn apart, 3-0 down at half time, 6-0 down at the full time and another player sent off thrown in for good measure just to make sure no one will outdoor than in the shitty stakes.
Even if North Korea somehow pull everything together their horrendous goal difference is going to come back to bite them on the behind, currently they sit on 10 goals conceded and 0 scored. Giving them an unhealthy -10 GD as they look to become one of the best four third-place finishers.
Next up for North Korea is a game against Lebanon, who are a team they should know well considering they were in the same qualifying group for the Asian Cup with Lebanon not losing to the North Koreans once. That gives us the impression Lebanon will beat them again and put their name in the running to be one of the best third-place finishers instead of the North Koreans.
What will be interesting to see, is if North Korea deviate from their utterly horrid - ultra defensive 5-3-2 system and go for the jugular by trying to win, and score a plethora of goals needed to have any chance of making the next round. North Korea to lose again and go out of the competition as the worst team of the round however looks the most likely.
So with the group stages reaching conclusion, we look like we are only going to be one East Asian side down come the second round. That is exactly the stage we expected to be at before the tournament started.
Our prediction before the tournament:
North Korea - Group stage elimination
China - Knocked out in the second round
South Korea - Semi-Final defeat
Japan - Winners