2012 AFC Challenge Cup: Who are the favourites?

The 2012 AFC Challenge Cup will kick-off tomorrow in the Nepali capital Kathmandu with eight nations taking part in the second tier tournament for national teams from across Asia, which the AFC likes to call emerging nations in football. Like in the last couple of editions the champions earn a spot at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia.

AFC Acting President Zhang Jilong stressed this point by saying, "And what makes this edition really interesting for the fans is that the winner will qualify directly for Asia's biggest tournament - the AFC Asian Cup in Australia in 2015."

"I expect to see top-level action on the pitch and ask the players to follow the spirit of fair play, no matter how intense the competition," added the AFC Acting President.

But who are the favourites to win the fourth edition of the AFC Challenge Cup?

Defending champions North Korea are the top favourites to retain their title, then the East Asian nation are by far the highest ranked at 111th with Tajikistan the closest at 145th. The North Koreans can build on a squad which played the 2010 FIFA World Cup, an experience from which the other nations are far away.

But North Korea are in the Group of Death along with former champions Tajikistan and India plus the Philippines, who have brought in a number of Player of Filipino Origin from around the world. On their day anyone amongst these four could top the group, though under normal circumstances North Korea should still top this group while the other three sides would fight for second spot.

The other Group A on paper looks weaker with hosts Nepal, Palestine, Turkmenistan and the Maldives. The Palestinians have looked good in preparations even beating Azerbaijan 2-0, who had earlier beaten India rather easily 3-0 with Turkmenistan a tough Central Asian side, who will have their good build on their side; but even the young hosts Nepal under English Graham Roberts will aim to reach the semifinals.

The tournament starts tomorrow and we will know on March 19, if North Korea can retain the title or if someone else wins the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup.

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