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.”
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