The AFC Asian Cup got into its groove with five matches played over the weekend.
One of the pre-tournament favorites, Iran, eased their way to victory. The United Arab Emirates enjoyed a comfortable start, Uzbekistan notched up a win whilst China provided the tournament’s first real surprise downing Saudi Arabia.
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UAE 4 – 1 Qatar:
The tournament’s second 4-1 victory saw the United Arab Emirates comfortably dispatch Middle Eastern neighbours Qatar. The Qataris took the lead with an exquisitely volleyed lob from Khalfan Ibrahim, unfortunately that was as good as it got for Ibrahim and his side.
A pair of braces from Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout saw the UAE stamp their mark on the game. Though the score line was comprehensive the Emiratis were helped by the hapless keeping of Qatari goalie Qasem Burhan.
Mahdi Ali, the head coach of the UAE, was happy with the display from his side singling out Omar Abdulrahman for praise. However he did acknowledge that there’s room for improvement and will hope to put on an even better display in their next match against Bahrain. A victory will almost certainly see the UAE go through to the knock-out phase.
Qatari coach Djamel Belmadi bemoaned his team’s performance stating that there were “no positives” he could take from the match. It doesn’t get much easier for his side as their next match is against Asia’s top ranked team Iran.
The next few years will be crucial for Qatari football. They need to have a good Asian Cup to use as a springboard for qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. If Qatar fail to make it to Russia they will suffer the ignominy of being the first nation to play in a World Cup without having qualified beforehand.
Saudi Arabia 0 – 1 China:
It would be incorrect to label this an upset but it is fair to say that not many pundits saw this result coming.
Saudi Arabia, one of the fancied teams in the Asian Cup were shorn of the injured Nasser Al-Shamrani, the current Asian Footballer of the Year, but even so they had a golden opportunity to take the lead against the Chinese after Naif Hazazi was fouled by Ren Hang. The Saudi forward picked himself up to take the penalty but his lazy effort was saved by Wang Dalei. Strictly speaking the penalty should have been retaken as the Chinese keeper was a couple of steps off his line when the spot-kick was struck.