One of the most recognisable voices in Australian football broadcasting, Simon Hill has been undergoing some intensive preparations ahead of this month's tournament.
Can you name the Kuwaiti left-back? Simon Hill can. “Fahad Shaheen,” he says without a moment's hesitation or a flicker of doubt.
The Fox Sports commentator has been engrossed in Asian Cup preparations for the last six months, learning new names and re-familiarising himself with old ones. Kuwait is easy, he says, because he’s done commentary on their previous matches against the Socceroos (though he does wonder how their freshly appointed coach, Nabil Maaloul, will go).
Other sides are proving more difficult. “North Korea is always a challenge, for obvious reasons,” he says with a chuckle. “Palestine has been a bit of a challenge.”
But even when it comes to less secretive nations or more established sides, it’s been tough to find even basic information like formations and line-ups, let alone game footage.
“When you’re commentating, you need to be across pretty much everything that’s going to occur on that pitch, and for every single player, you need to have at least a vague idea of what you’re talking about - and for a lot of these countries, is it vague.
“A lot of (the footage I’ve seen), I’ve got to be honest, is via YouTube. That’s how difficult it can be. Asia doesn’t sell itself very well (in terms of media and marketing).
“Once you get into the tournament, you tend to pick up information as you go along, and obviously you hope your research, of which I’ve done a fair bit, is going to get you through.”
Hill has worked on the two previous Asian Cups - Qatar 2011, and the 2007 tournament spread out across South East Asia. As much fun as they were though, they were nothing compared to the experience he had at 1998’s African Cup of Nations in Burkina Faso, which he covered for the BBC World Service.
“It was amazing and bizarre. We spent six weeks in the one of the poorest nations on earth; double landlocked. It was just the most incredible experience. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alive than I did during that tournament, because every single day was both a challenge and an absolute joy to be there. It was just amazing.”
His tip for this tournament is Iran, though the more he researches them, the more problems he discovers. There’s poor preparation for a start. Then there’s the political friction between the country’s football association and the government’s sports ministry, which could undermine the team’s performance.
“I’m wavering a bit on that, but I still think that on their day, they’ve got some terrific players.”
It’s a list that includes former Charlton striker Reza Ghoochannejhad, who Hill likes as a chance for the Golden Boot. “He’s got an amazing record at international level. He’s been prolific really for Iran over the last couple of years.”
And Australia’s chances?
“Hmmmm. It’s a tough one, isn’t it. Home advantage will help, there’s no doubt about that. But we can’t say that we’re confident about the Socceroos winning the tournament, given their recent form.
He says semi-finals will be par, but the bottom line is no one really knows what they are capable of. “Certainly man for man, Japan are a better team. South Korea, Iran too.”
And possibly several others, but we’ll only know that once play gets underway. It’s that touch of mystery that really appeals to Hill. “It’s what makes this tournament interesting. With a World Cup, you can say, ‘He’s going to be a top player; he’s great.' With this tournament, there are so many unknowns. That’s part of the joy of it.”
Make sure you get your family and friends together and RISE with the Socceroos! Tickets are available by clicking here www.socceroos.com.au/tickets
Join us on our journey throughout the AFC Asian Cup 2015 in January by downloading the Official Socceroos app! Download the app through the App Store or Google Play store, or CLICK HERE
Milicic's clue for Denmark approach
Ante Milicic has absorbed his fair share of huge football matches from the Socceroos dugout in recent times. But the Socceroos Assistant Coach says tonight's encounter with Denmark will be bigger than anything he's ever faced. TALKING POINTS: Van Marwijk's change up that co
'I'm not convinced anymore': Dane worried by Socceroos
Hyundai A-League star Michael Jakobsen was confident Denmark would beat Australia comfortably at the World Cup, but the Socceroos' performance against France now has him less convinced. Australia's display against one of the tournament favourites in Kazan on Saturday drew prai
How to watch, follow Socceroos v Denmark
The Socceroos will be in search of a vital win against their Scandinavian opponents tonight to keep their FIFA World Cup™ dream alive. It will be the fourth meeting between Australia and Denmark in Thursday night's clash at the Samara Arena, with the Socceroos last tasting vic
Russia Watch: Heartbreak for Iran, another Ronaldo record
Despite two valiant displays from Iran and Morocco, Spain and Portugal were overnight victors in Group B, while Luis Suarez got off the mark in Uruguay's win over Saudi Arabia. Here's our wrap of the overnight action: READ: Update on 2018 FIFA World Cup™ broadcast details