Who will win the 2023 AFC Asian Cup? Well, the Opta supercomputer has delivered its 2023 Asian Cup predictions as tournament hosts Qatar look to defend their continental crown against tough competition including Australia, Japan and South Korea.


The calendar year of 2024 will be a big one for major international football tournaments, with the AFC Asian Cup 2023 among many key events taking place.

A frenetic year begins with an intriguing Asian Cup that will run at the same time as the Africa Cup of Nations, with Euro 2024 and the Copa América scheduled for the summer.

The Asian Cup, officially the 2023 edition of the competition even though it will run from 12 January to 10 February of this year, will kick off when hosts Qatar take on Lebanon in Group A on Friday for the first of 51 matches.

Qatar were crowned continental champions for the first time in 2019, defeating record four-time winners Japan in the final, and will be under pressure to produce another meaningful run as they play on home soil.

Japan are again among the leading contenders to triumph in Asian football’s biggest competition, as are major nations like Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Son Heung-min’s South Korea, who are looking to end their long wait for glory in the competition, having last triumphed in 1960.

Which teams are most likely to go all the way and are there any sides who could upset the odds with a surprise run to the latter stages? Let’s find out by reviewing the Opta supercomputer’s AFC Asian Cup predictions.

Asian Cup Predictions

  • Japan are the team to beat this year. The supercomputer gives them a 24.6% chance of winning the tournament, and they make it to at least the semi-finals in over half of our 10,000 simulations.
  • South Korea (14.3%) are tipped to be Japan’s closest challengers to go all the way.
  • Iran (11.2%) and Australia are also in the mix, with the Socceroos given a 10.7% chance of glory by the Opta supercomputer.
  • Saudi Arabia (10.6%) also enter the event as contenders, while hosts Qatar have a 9.8% chance of defending their title and are expected to make at least the quarter-finals.
Asian Cup 2023 Predictions - Opta

Asian Cup Favourites

Japan

Japan are rated as the favourites to win the tournament by our predictive model.

The Samurai Blue, skippered by Liverpool midfielder Wataru Endo, come into the event with their impressive World Cup performance – which saw them shockingly top a group including Germany and Spain – fresh in the mind.

Japan have a magnificent record at the Asian Cup, having reached the final in five of their nine appearances. Their four championship titles are a competition record, with all those wins coming in the modern era since they started their run of success in 1992.

At 17th in the FIFA world rankings, they are also the highest-ranked AFC nation.

Japan are almost certain to progress from Group D and are given a 97.2% chance of reaching the last 16, doing so as group winners in almost three-quarters (72.9%) of our tournament simulations, with Iraq (15.9%) likely to be the only team capable of challenging them for top spot.

Endo will hope to lift the trophy and should expect to reach the semi-finals, according to the Opta supercomputer, as Japan do so at a rate of 52.8%. To illustrate the gulf between them and the chasing pack, the next-most likely team to reach the last four is South Korea and their chance is much lower at 39.9%.

Japan win the tournament in 24.6% of our simulations, so they go into the event as clear favourites and the team to beat.

Endo is part of a strong list of midfield options for coach Hajime Moriyasu, while the defence also looks resolute, containing Arsenal star Takehiro Tomiyasu.

Japan’s main concerns may be at either end of the pitch. They have named three goalkeepers who are inexperienced at international level – none of them started 2024 with more than four caps – while ex-Liverpool player Takumi Minamino (18), who now plays for Monaco, and Reims’ Junya Ito (13) are the only two players with double figures for international goals.

However, there is huge quality in a squad that contains exciting talents like Kaoru Mitoma (if he is fit enough to play a part as the Brighton star battles an ankle injury), Takefusa Kubo and Ritsu Doan.

Opta Predictions – Japan

Group winner – 72.9%
Reach last 16 – 97.2%
Reach quarter-finals – 73.2%
Reach semi-finals – 52.8%
Reach final – 36.7%
Winner – 24.6%

South Korea

South Korea won the first two editions of the Asia Cup in 1956 and 1960, but they make their 15th appearance in the finals still waiting for a third success.

They have made the final four times since their last victory, most recently in 2015 when they were beaten by Australia in extra-time.

Like Japan, they reached the knockout stages of the World Cup and boast a talented squad that includes Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae and Paris Saint-Germain star Lee Kang-in.

Two in-form Premier League forwards are also among their options. Tottenham’s Son Heung-min and Wolves’ Hwang Hee-chan have 22 goals between them in England’s top flight already in 2023-24 and will be sorely missed by their clubs.

It’s an impressive lineup and South Korea may feel their time is now.

Son will captain a team who are rated as the second-most likely tournament winners by our model at 14.3%. They should expect to progress from Group E, a pool which they win in 67.3% of our simulations and they can also be confident of reaching the last eight (62.2%).

South Korea make it to what would be a record seventh Asian Cup final a quarter of the time (24.9%), so expect Jürgen Klinsmann’s team to prove strong contenders.

Opta Predictions – South Korea

Group winner – 67.3%
Reach last 16 – 95.1%
Reach quarter-finals – 62.2%
Reach semi-finals – 39.9%
Reach final – 24.9%
Winner – 14.3%

Iran

Iran are a must-watch team at the Asian Cup.

They have won the most matches in tournament history (41) and have also scored the most goals (131).

Iran also hold the longest consecutive run of participation, appearing now for the 15th time in a streak that started in 1968.

Unbeaten in their last 20 group-stage matches (W15 D5) since losing to Iraq in 1996, it looks like Iran are poised to make the latter stages once again.

They are the second-highest ranked AFC nation by FIFA, at 21 in the world, and come into the Asian Cup as our third favourites, winning the tournament at a rate of 11.2%.

Iran are three-time continental champions, winning on all three occasions when they have reached the final, although that last happened in 1976.

Amir Ghalenoei has impressed since replacing Carlos Queiroz as boss, and United Arab Emirates are the only nation likely to be able to challenge them in Group C, which they win in 58.4% of our simulations.

Iran reach the semis at least a third of the time (34.9%), with Porto forward Mehdi Taremi and Roma attacker Sardar Azmoun set to be key to Team Melli’s hopes.

Opta Predictions – Iran

Group winner – 58.4%
Reach last 16 – 93.2%
Reach quarter-finals – 63.0%
Reach semi-finals – 34.9%
Reach final – 21.2%
Winner – 11.2%

Australia

Australia will appear at the tournament for a fifth time, having finished as runners-up in 2011 and then triumphed in 2015 before suffering a shock quarter-final elimination at the hands of UAE last time out in 2019.

The Socceroos have a squad with a decent mix of youth and experience, without containing any global stars.

They impressed at the World Cup by reaching the last 16 before losing narrowly to eventual winners Argentina, and should be able to navigate their way out of Group B.

2023 Asian Cup Predictions - Group B

Australia and Uzbekistan are set to battle for first place, with Syria and India likely to find competing with those two nations a tough challenge.

Graham Arnold’s side should expect to reach the last eight as a minimum, as they reach that stage in 62.0% of our simulations, and they have a better than one in five chance (20.4%) of going all the way to the final, with their 10.7% win percentage falling only just short of Iran.

They are one of the four AFC teams (Japan, Iran and South Korea are the other three) in the top 25 of the FIFA rankings and there is a notable gap from there, with no other team in the top 50.

Opta Predictions – Australia

Group winner – 56.4%
Reach last 16 – 92.4%
Reach quarter-finals – 62.0%
Reach semi-finals – 37.7%
Reach final – 20.4%
Winner – 10.7%

Saudi Arabia

Six-time finalists and three-time winners Saudi Arabia should be fascinating to watch as they seek their first Asian Cup title since 1996 and a first final appearance since 2007.

An influx of talent into the Saudi Pro League over the last year is only likely to have helped a team of homegrown players that impressively took down Argentina in the World Cup group stage.

Al-Hilal’s Salem Al-Dawsari has been one of the most impressive Pro League performers this season, while Firas Al-Buraikan – who joined Al-Ahli this year – is a prolific domestic scorer yet to hit his peak on the international stage.

Looking to repeat their 1988 success on Qatari soil, Saudi Arabia are strongly fancied to top Group F as they battle with Oman for top spot. Kyrgyzstan and Thailand are expected to find it tough to compete with the Saudis.

Saudi Arabia should make it to the last eight, doing so in 60.1% of the simulations run by the supercomputer and have a strong chance of reaching the last four at 35.9%.

While their chances begin to drop from there, they still come into the tournament as fifth favourites to win it (10.6%), with comparable hopes to Iran and Australia despite those sides being ranked higher.

Opta Predictions – Saudi Arabia

Group winner – 60.5%
Reach last 16 – 93.5%
Reach quarter-finals – 60.1%
Reach semi-finals – 35.9%
Reach final – 19.0%
Winner – 10.6%

Qatar

It will be tough for hosts Qatar to repeat their success from 2019, although at 9.8% their chances of winning again should not be completely discounted.

The hosts may need to get off to a fast start, as they only top Group A 50.1% of the time, with China (25.1%) having the potential to cause them a few problems. Progression to the last 16 (88.6%) should not be a problem, though.

Qatar, who become the only team to have hosted the competition three times, are more likely than not to reach the quarter-finals (58.6%) and have an 18.7% hope of reaching back-to-back finals in the competition.

However, the odds are against them, as in the last seven Asian Cups, Australia (in 2015) are the only host nation to have won, while it is 20 years since the title was successfully defended.

Strong performances are needed from forwards Almoez Ali and Akram Afif, who have each racked up over 100 caps for the national team.

Ali scored nine goals in 2019, the most a player has managed in a single competition, and was named the tournament MVP as a result. Afif, meanwhile, provided the most assists (10) and created the most chances (26) in any edition since 2007.

Opta Predictions – Qatar

Group winner – 50.0%
Reach last 16 – 88.6%
Reach quarter-finals – 58.6%
Reach semi-finals – 34.5%
Reach final – 18.7%
Winner – 9.8%

Other Asian Cup Contenders

Outside of the leading six, there are only four teams given a greater than 2.0% chance of triumphing at the tournament.

Those teams are United Arab Emirates (2.9%), Uzbekistan (2.5%), Iraq (2.4%) and China (2.2%).

Iraq won the Asian Cup in 2007 and are the only team likely to challenge Japan in Group D, winning that pool in 15.9% of our simulations and coming second in the group 40.6% of the time.

They reach the last 16 74.9% of the time and may be a team many of the favourites want to avoid facing in the last 16. As well as their 2007 success, Iraq were semi-finalists in 2015.

UAE were runners-up in 1996 and are expected to progress from Group C with Iran, while China have made the final on two occasions, most recently in 2004. They make at least the quarter-finals at a rate of 63.8% according to the supercomputer, so could be a team to watch out for.

Uzbekistan reached the semi-finals in 2011, which was the last time Qatar hosted the event, and they have a decent 18.7% chance of making it through to the last four again here.

Hong Kong Return

This tournament has a similar make-up to the last Asian Cup, as 20 of the 24 teams also participated in 2019.

Of the four countries that did not take part last time, Tajikistan are the only debutants in the competition, although few will remember Hong Kong’s last appearance, which came way back in 1968.

Malaysia and Indonesia are the other two teams who qualified this time after not playing in the previous editions. Those two nations hosted the 2007 AFC Asian Cup and have not got through the qualifiers since, with neither country ever managing to make it past the group stage in any of their previous appearances.

But the tournament format means all four teams go into the event with at least a fighting chance of making the last 16, which would represent an impressive accomplishment.

Hong Kong make the knockout stage in 37.1% of our simulations and have an outside chance (12.4%) of a dream run to the last eight. Simply winning a match would be a success, though, as they have never done that in 10 attempts at the tournament.

Our model is more favourable to Tajikistan, who are in fact more likely than not (54.5%) to make the last 16 and even reach the semis 6.7% of the time, so a competitive Group A including Qatar, China, Tajikistan and Lebanon could be an entertaining watch.

Malaysia (who have a 44.2% chance of reaching the last 16) will face South Korea, Jordan and Bahrain in the group stage, while Indonesia (38.3%) might also have a tough task as they battle Japan, Iraq and Vietnam in Group D.

The Key Asian Cup Opta Stats

  • Five teams have successfully defended their title in the AFC Asian Cup, though the last team to successfully do so was Japan back in 2004.
  • South Korea have been runners-up in the Asian Cup the most times (4), and they also hold the second-most third-place finishes (4), just behind Iran (5).
  • Iran are the team to have played most matches in Asian Cup history (68), one more than South Korea (67).
  • Ali Daei holds the record as top scorer in Asian Cup history with 14 goals, four more than second-ranked player (Lee Dong-gook on 10).
  • Tajikistan will become the 36th team to participate in the tournament; only three countries (South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia) have ever won the competition in their debut appearances.
  • Thailand hold the record for the longest winless run in the Asian Cup, going 18 games without a victory (D8 L10) between 1972 and 2007. Overall, they have won just two of their 24 games in the competition’s history (D9 L13).
  • The 2019 event produced the highest number of goals scored (130), but the inaugural edition of the tournament in 1956 still holds the record for the highest goal-per-game rate (4.5).
  • Australia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan has played 11 games at the Asian Cup, the most of any current Socceroos player. He is five appearances shy of equalling Tim Cahill (16) as the most capped Australia player at the tournament.
  • Japan have the record for the most victories in the knockout stages of the Asian Cup (12), followed closely by Iran (10).
  • Of all teams participating, no nation has averaged fewer goals conceded per game than Australia and Jordan at 0.67 goals per game each. Australia have conceded 14 goals from 21 appearances while Jordan have let in 10 from 15.

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