Since 1992, the Asian Cup saw a new dominance in the continent. Winning 5 out of the last 7 cups, the teams from East Asia became the leaders of Asian football. Alongside with ASEAN teams, teams from Central Asia and the addition of Australia, this area provides us some of the greatest teams in the tournament.
Here is what you need to know about the teams from the East in the Asian Cup:
Since its first day as an AFC member, Australia became one of the leading teams in Asia. Four years ago they made history and won their first title in front of their home crowd and now they will try to do it twice in a row.
The Australians are facing major changes in the team after the World Cup. Their two leading players, Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak, have retired, and the Socceroos will look for a new inspiration. Their leading player will be Celtic's midfielder, Tom Rogic, and he will co-operate with the defensive duo from PSV, Aziz Behich and Trent Sainsbury.
The team from South Korea is well known around the world. They participated in every World Cup since 1986, being one of the leading representatives of Asian football. Yet, the team won the Asian Cup for the last time in 1960 and they want to end this long drought.
Due to an agreement with Tottenhem, the best player in the tournament, Son Heung-Min will miss the first two group stage matches, but the squad is full of talent. The Portuguese manager, Paulo Bento, will especially trust the 22-years-old midfielder Hwang Hee-Chan, who is leading Hamburger SV back to the Bundesliga as a loaned player from Red Bull Salzburg.
With four titles in their trophy cabin, Japan is the most decorated team in Asia. In Russia, the Blue Samurais were the only Asian team to qualify from the group stage and they were not so far from surprising Belgium in the round of 16.
The Japanese squad is composed of players that play in some of the best leagues in Europe. Except from Southampton's Maya Yoshida, you can find also the only La Liga player in the tournament, Gaku Shibasaki from Getafe, and one out of two France Ligue 1 players, Hiroki Sakai from Marseille. Veteran Yuto Nagatomo will act as the team leader.
The project of developing Chinese football is keep on going, but China is still far from their expectations. Even though before the tournament the Chinese FA dealt with some bizarre issues like demanding players to cover their tattoos, everyone knows that during the tournament they will act as soldiers under the guidance of the former World Champion, Marcello Lippi.
The team’s superstar is Wu Lei of Shanghai SIPG. Wu is coming after a sensational season. He led his team to the title win after seven consecutive Guangzhou Evergrande championships. Moreover, he scored 27 league goals and became the first Chinese top scorer in the league since 2007.
Uzbekistan is always close to qualify for the World Cup or the later stages of the Asian Cup, but usually fails in the crucial moments. Their recent addition is the classic manager for such situations, Héctor Cúper, former Valencia and Egypt manager.
One of the major changes in Uzbek football was the rising number of players that preferred the big money of the domestic league instead of playing abroad. Even those who left Uzbekistan are playing in places like China or the UAE. Their key player will be the captain, Odil Ahmedov, who played in the last year for Shanghai SIPG.
If you would say three years ago to an Indian football fan that their team will be in the Asian Cup, he will probably laugh. The team failed to impress in the World Cup qualifiers and were real contenders to miss the tournament. The managerial change after Stephen Constantine was appointed took them back on track, including a 13 undefeated games streak.
This tournament will probably be the last Asian Cup of India's football hero, Sunil Chhetri. The 34-years-old striker remembers that eight years ago the team didn't impress in the tournament, including conceding 13 goals in the group stage. Now, there is no doubt that India is much better, mostly thanks to rising Indian Super League.
When Vietnam looks on 2018, they can be hopeful for their next years. Their U-23 team reached the final in the U-23 Asian Championship and finished fourth in the Asian Games, so their future is bright. The senior team was also successful, after winning the AFF Suzuki Cup a month ago.
This title will be also the problem of the Vietnamese squad. After a massive month, the team will need to pick themselves up and reach another mental peak, not an easy task. The one who led them to the AFF Suzuki Cup title is also one of their youngsters, Nguyen Quan Hai, a 21 years old midfielder.
Even though Thaliand is a bit of an anonymous team, they can always provide problems to any team. The Thai teams are used to play in the highest levels of Asian football, like the AFC Champions League, so you can't treat them as minnows.
After their only European-based player, the goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan, was injured, Thaliand's squad is composed of players from domestic league and one player that plays in Japan. Their key player is Teerasil Dangda, the first Thai player in Spanish La Liga, who now plays for local side Muangthong United.
The Azkals are the best example of how Asian football has developed. Two decades ago they were one of Asia's biggest minnows, but today they will make their debut in the Asian Cup. After four stable years with American manager, Thomas Dooley, The Philippines had four different managers in the last six months. Their current manager is the former England boss, Sven-Göran Eriksson.
Their squad is based on Filipino descent players that were born abroad. Their first additions in 2005 were English brothers, James and Phil Younghusband, who both play today in the domestic league. The team has also players from Germany, like Stephan Schröck and John-Patrick Strauss, and from Denmark, like Michael Falkesgaard.
Turkmenistan is back to the Asian Cup for the first time since 2004, but there is no surprise in their appearance. The last year was tremendous for Turkmen football, including an historic appearance of Altyn Asyr in the AFC Cup final. Therefore, Turkmenistan decided to appoint Altyn Asyr manager, Yazguly Hojageldyyev, for this mission.
Except from Altyn Asyr superstars like Altymyrat Annadurdyyew, they have also one player that plays in Europe. Ruslan Mingazow is playing in the Czech Republic, being loaned at the first half of the season to Příbram and now got back to his club, Slavia Prague.
The mysterious team of the tournament will take part in the Asian Cup for the third consecutive time and will try this time to make much more than just playing around. During the qualifiers, Jørn Andersen, a Norwegian manager, guided them but he left as the international sanctions got more impact. Their current manager is Kim Yong-Jun, who played with the team in 2010 World Cup.
We use to think about North Korea as a closed nation, but still four players in the squad play in Europe. The leading one is Pak Kwang-Ryong, who plays in Austria for St. Pölten. Two interesting youngsters are the 20-years-old Han Kwang-Song and Choe Song-Hyok, both play in Italy for Perugia and Arrezzo.
Another debutant in the tournament is Kyrgyzstan, who is a bit unfamiliar with such stages. A Russian manager, Aleksandr Krestinin, guides the team in the last four years and two German-born Kyrgyz players, Vitalij Lux and Edgar Bernhardt, strengthen the squad.
Yet, their most interesting player in the squad is Daniel Tagoe. Tagoe is the only African player to play in the Asian Cup. The player from Ghana played since 2007 in the Kyrgyz leading club, Dordoi Bishkek. Later on he got a Kyrgyz citizenship and even married his Kyrgyz girlfriend. Tagoe left Dordoi recently and now he is playing for Chittagong Abahani from Bangladesh.