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Australia’s main rivals at the Asian Cup

With the Asian Cup set to get under way on January 5, we take a look at the defending champion Socceroos' main rivals in the tournament.

JAPAN
World ranking: 50
Asian Cups: 4 (1992, 2000, 2004, 2011)
Key player: Maya Yoshida

Asia's best-performed team at the 2018 World Cup, where only a second-half comeback from Belgium prevented the Blue Samarai from reaching the tournament's last eight. Have twice been Australia's nemesis at the Asian Cup, defeating the Socceroos in the 2011 final and the 2007 quarter-finals. Coach Hajime Moriyasu has yet to lose since taking over from Akira Nishino after the World Cup.

Maya Yoshida, left, is a key part of Japan's Asian Cup side.

Maya Yoshida, left, is a key part of Japan's Asian Cup side.Credit:PA

IRAN
World ranking: 29
Asian Cups: 3 (1968, 1972, 1976)
Key player: Sardar Azmoun

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Led by former Real Madrid head coach Carlos Queiroz who has been in charge since 2011, including at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. One of the strongest teams in Asia historically, Iran have fallen at the quarter-finals in the past three Asian Cups including a penalty shoot-out loss to neighbours Iraq in 2015. Australia have never faced Iran since becoming a part of the Asian Confederation with the last meeting being the ill-fated World Cup playoff at the MCG in 1997 where Khodadad Azizi's late strike ended the Socceroos' campaign.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz.Credit:AP

SOUTH KOREA
World ranking: 53
Asian Cups: 2 (1956, 1960)
Key player: Son Heung-min

Defeat to Australia in the 2015 Asian Cup final in Sydney means one of the giants of Asian soccer has now gone almost 60 years since winning the regional championship. Tottenham winger Son Heung-min is possibly the biggest name at the tournament but won't feature until the knock-out stages due to an agreement between the Korean FA and the English Premier League club. Experienced coach Paulo Bento is yet to lose in six matches since taking over in August and has picked a squad full of experience including Son, Newcastle United midfielder Ki Sung-yueng and Robbie Kruse's Bochum teammate Lee Chung-yong.

Son Heung-min won't feature until the knockout stages of the Asian Cup.

Son Heung-min won't feature until the knockout stages of the Asian Cup.Credit:AP

SAUDI ARABIA
World ranking: 69
Asian Cups: 3 (1984, 1988, 1996)
Key player: Fahad Al Muwallad

Regular World Cup attendees Saudi Arabia will be buoyed by this year's Asian Cup being hosted in neighbouring United Arab Emirates. The Green Falcons won three titles in their first four appearances at the Asian Cup but have been eliminated in the group stages for three of the past four tournaments. Juan Antonio Pizzi's decision to omit Nawaf Al Abed from his squad means the team's goals will have to come from somewhere else. Al Abed's five strikes in the third round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup ensured they finished ahead of Australia and sent the Socceroos into a torturous play-off route to Russia.

AAP

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