2015 AFC Asian Cup Weekend Wrap-Up

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The 2015 AFC Asian Cup has written itself in the history books. How so? Well after this weekend’s results, the tournament has seen 20 straight games with a winner. That’s right there have been no draws in this tournament thus far.  No major football tournament — be it the World Cup, European Championships, African Cup of Nations, Copa América — have seen this number of consecutive results.

The record was previously held by the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay which saw 18 consecutive games yield definitive result.

So what do we know after the weekend’s matches?  Well two quarterfinals have been decided already.  The hosts, Australia, will take on the in-form China whilst Uzbekistan face South Korea.

How did we arrive here?

Programming note: For viewers in the United States, the tournament is being shown exclusively on One World Sports and DishWorld. Even if you don’t have a TV subscription to One World Sports, you can access the channel via online streaming service DishWorld for $10/month. Sign up for DishWorld via their website.

Australia 0 – 1 South Korea

Well who saw this result coming?  The Socceroos in their previous two matches helped themselves to eight goals whilst only conceding the one.  South Korea, on the other hand, scraped to two 1-0 victories and barely looked impressive in either of their Asian Cup outings.

Soccer, being the game that it is, saw fit to throw the form book out of the window and delivered perhaps the most surprising result of the tournament so far.  South Korea managed to sneak a 1-0 victory.

The result doesn’t fatally wound Australia’s chances at the Asian Cup.  If anything, it’s a timely reminder that nothing can be taken for granted.  Ange Postecoglou gambled by leaving first choice attacking trio Tim Cahill, Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie on the bench and though it failed to pay off, he did learn a lot about his team.  He would have been pleased with the fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude of his side but if this match demonstrated anything, it is that a lapse in concentration can prove costly.  Australia now face a winnable if tricky encounter with China.  No doubt Postecoglou and company will work to ensure that they don’t suffer a repeat when they face the Chinese in Brisbane.

As for Uli Stielike, this is his side’s third one-nil victory in a row.  The winner itself, which came in the 33rd minute, was a cleverly crafted goal.  Ki Sung-yueng slipped a clever ball through to Lee Keun-ho behind the Australian right flank, taking out three players in the process.  Ho took advantage of Nathan Burns’ lapse in concentration to play the ball across the face of goal, which was diverted in by Lee Jeong-hyeop with the merest of touches.

Of the three matches, this game would have pleased Stielike the most with the German coach remarking that the atmosphere of the tie had the feeling of a cup final rather than a group game.  He was pleased with how his side raised the level of their game and added in rather understated fashion:

“I hope tonight will serve as the benchmark for the rest of the games”.

South Korea played the match without injured Mainz duo Park Joo-ho and Koo Ja-cheol, so it’s a testament to their team ethic and approach that they didn’t let the absence of the pair weigh them down.  Park could make it for the quarterfinal against the unpredictable Uzbekistan but Koo could be a doubt.

 

Oman 1 – 0 Kuwait

There wasn’t much to play for but pride for the two Middle Eastern sides.  On paper, the stats didn’t suggest a goal fest as Kuwait had only scored twice in seven Asian Cup matches whilst Oman were yet to hit the back of the net in 418 minutes prior to this encounter.

Abdulaziz Al Muqbali scored the crucial goal for Oman, heading home in the 69th minute against the run of play it has to be said, to secure the points and the win for the Omanis.  He really should have had a hat trick as he spurned two great opportunities to put the game out of sight.

Oman Coach Paul Le Guen was happy with the result praising their resilience:

“We had some difficulties during the game but we kept fighting. I like that about this team.”

As for Kuwait, the curtain is drawn on a fruitless Asian Cup campaign.  Their coach Nabil Maâloul bemoaned his side’s injury problems and believed that it played a big part in Kuwait’s poor campaign.

 

Uzbekistan 3 – 1 Saudi Arabia

It was a must-win game for Mirjalol Qosimov’s Uzbekistan as they rang in the changes, bringing in five new faces and instructing his team to attack from the off.  Sardor Rashidov gave his team a dream start scoring inside 90 seconds pouncing on an error before sliding a shot through Waleed Abdullah legs.  In truth, it was a terrible piece of goalkeeping and Abdullah’s keeping arguably played a huge role in Saudi Arabia’s early exit from the tournament.

Uzbekistan, the White Wolves,  sought to impose a physical style on the match and for most part it unsettled the Saudis who had trouble keeping up with the pace and power of the Uzbeks.  However the Green Falcons were given a lifeline in the 60th minute when Vitaliy Denisov was adjudged to have fouled Naif Hazazi.  It was the Saudi’s third penalty in the tournament and having missed the previous two Mohammed Al-Sahalawi stepped up and ensured it wasn’t third time unlucky slotting the ball home.  With the score at 1-1 the Saudis were on course to qualify for the quarters.

Despite getting back in the game the men in green were always susceptible at the back and only held their advantage for 11 minutes before Vokhid Shodiev towered above the Saudi backline to head home.  Once again Waleed Abdullah must shoulder a fair share of the blame as his indecisiveness as to whether to come out to meet Shavkat Mulladjanov’s cross left him with no time to react to Shodiev’s header.

With the disappointing Saudi’s desperately looking for an equalizer the Uzbeks clinically hit them on the counter with Rashidov finishing the contest off in earnest side footing home.  It was a deserved win and Uzbekistan now march on to face South Korea.

If the Saudis were honest with themselves, they will admit they didn’t do enough in the big matches as an attacking and defensive unit to get through.  One has to wonder what’s going through Naif Hazazi’s head at the moment.  It was his casual penalty against China that effectively set the tone for Saudi Arabia’s tournament.

As for Uzbekistan, coach Qosimov has promised a victory against South Korea.  It’s a bold thing to say but perhaps now it’s time for the Uzbeks to step up and claim their place as one of Asia’s footballing powerhouses.

 

China 2 – 1 North Korea

Pim Verbeek, in the run-up to the tournament, tipped China to do well as they had time to prepare for the AFC Asian Cup.  Thus far, he has been proved right as the Chinese unexpectedly topped their group displaying a level of resilience that has thus far been alien to them in recent years.

At the back, they have been marshaled really well by Zhang Linpeng whilst goalkeeper Wang Dalei has established himself as one of the standout goalkeepers in this tournament.

Another early goal, this time by Sun Ke who scored with just 45 seconds on the clock, put China in the box seat.  That said he was helped by some woeful defending by the North Koreans but don’t take anything away from Sun’s alertness and smart finish to capitalize on the error.  Sun Ke doubled China’s lead meeting Jiang Zhipeng’s cross to head home though the North Korean goal keeper left a lot to be desired.  The first half was a cruise for China and could easily have been three or four goals up by half time.

China did take their foot off the gas and the North Koreans pressed.  They pressured down the flanks and created a number of decent chances.  First, Gao Lin inadvertently steered the ball into his own net after Zhang Linpeng’s clearance off the line came off the unsuspecting striker.  So Hyon-uk so nearly equalized with a spectacular volley and had it been a few inches lower it would have been a contender for goal of the tournament.

China now take on hosts Australia.  All the pressure will be on the Socceroos to deliver and that could play into the hands of Alain Perrin’s men.  In this scenario, the Chinese will be more than happy to be the underdogs.

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