The group stage of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup is over and there wasn’t a single draw at all. There have been 24 definitive results in 24 matches, which is quite remarkable.
The knockouts have a lot to live up to and there are some tasty fixtures to look forward to.
In total there are eight more matches left in the AFC Asian Cup so say hello to the business end of the tournament.
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.
SOUTH KOREA vs UZBEKISTAN:
Thursday, 2:30am ET; live on One World Sports and DishWorld
This is probably the hardest game to call out of all four of the quarterfinals. Uzbekistan have been consistently inconsistent scraping past North Korea, losing surprisingly to China before dispatching Saudi Arabia.
As for South Korea their record reads played three won three but that doesn’t tell the tale of their nervy performances in their first two matches before pulling off a surprise result against the hosts Australia. That’s South Korea in a nutshell; they may be unconvincing but still possess the pedigree to get a result when it matters.
Uzbekistani coach Mirjalol Qosimov has promised a win against the Taeguk Warriors which is a rather bold statement to make. That said if Uzbekistan are to make the step up to be considered one of Asia’s leading football nations then they need to beat the region’s big teams. A little bit of positivity is not a bad thing. After their 3-1 victory against Saudi Arabia it’ll be interesting to see if Qosimov keeps his faith with the side that clinched qualification for the knockout stages or recall two time AFC Asian footballer of the year Server Djeparov. Expect Sardor Rashidov to retain his place after his brace against the Saudis.
Uli Stielike’s side haven’t set the Asian Cup alight but they could sneak into the semifinals somewhat under the radar. Prior to the tournament expectations were low and that may have been to South Korea’s advantage. Their best player by far has been Swansea City midfielder Ki Sung-yueng and he will be key if his are to dictate the tempo of the match. He has been at the heart of everything good that the South Korean’s have produced dictating the flow of the game for his side.
Both sides haven’t played to their full potential but the ingredients are there for this to be an entertaining encounter. Will Uzbekistan start the match quickly and hope to rattle the South Koreans? Can South Korea overcome their nerves and play the kind of football they are capable of especially with the talent at their disposal? The Uzbekistanis can play physically but the South Koreans aren’t a side who will be bullied easily.
In terms of the head to head count, Uzbekistan have only beaten South Korea once in eleven outings with the Taeguk Warriors emerging victorious on eight occasions. This should be a tight contest but South Korea’s superior technical quality may be enough to see them squeeze past Uzbekistan.
PREDICTION: SOUTH KOREA 2 UZBEKISTAN 1
CHINA vs AUSTRALIA:
Thursday, 5:30am ET; live on One World Sports and DishWorld
China have been one of the surprise packages in the AFC Asian Cup winning all three of their group matches for the first time in their history. Their reward for topping Group B is a quarterfinal clash against the hosts Australia. Alain Perrin, China’s coach, can be forgiven for cursing his luck as a tie with South Korea would have probably suited his side better.
That said China in this tournament have been making a habit of surpassing expectation and a match against an Aussie side backed by a passionate home crowd will not cow the Chinese. If anything that could inspire them to raise their game. Sun Ke has found his shooting boots netting four goals in the tournament, Zhang Linpeng is showing why he’s considered one of the best defenders in Asia whilst Wang Dalei has emerged as one of the best goalkeepers in the tournament.
Stylistically China have also shown that they are capable of playing eye-catching football and going direct when they need to and have shown an inner steel hitherto unknown in recent years after coming back from a goal down to defeat Uzbekistan.
Alain Perrin wasn’t the first choice for Chinese fans when the head coach position became available for Asia’s perennial sleeping giants but he deserves a lot of credit for instilling confidence and resolve in his side. He will be hoping that midfielder Zheng Zhi will be fit to play as he plays a crucial role in organizing the Chinese midfield.
Australia started this tournament in barnstorming fashion swatting aside both Kuwait and Oman scoring four times in each match. Their defeat to South Korea came as a surprise but one feels that it was more of a learning experience for Ange Postecoglou and his players rather than a genuine setback.
The Socceroos are relishing their role as pre-tournament favorite and are riding the wave of support and expectation as hosts of the AFC Asian Cup. In terms of fitness and sheer intensity they are extremely difficult to live with and though they lack an out and out playmaker the Australians have more than enough trickery and firepower to see them through to the semis. A word of caution is required though. The Australian defense can be got at and though goalkeeper Mat Ryan has had a good tournament up till now the Socceroos must be mindful to keep things tight at the back.
On a more positive note for Postecoglou he will welcome back Mile Jedinak from injury and should restore Tim Cahill, Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie to the starting eleven.
The Australians will go into this game as strong favorites and perhaps the defeat to South Korea may have been a blessing in disguise. If any complacency was setting in it was knocked out by that eye-opening loss. They will not take the Chinese lightly.
China for their part will have to live with the intensity of the Australian game and match them physically and mentally. It may be a step too far for China though they have been quite happy to prove critics wrong in this tournament thus far.
PREDICTION: AUSTRALIA 2 CHINA 0
IRAQ vs IRAN
Friday, 1:30am ET; live on One World Sports and DishWorld
Iraq against Iran has the potential to be the tie of the quarterfinals. It’s certainly the most eye-catching fixture and promises to be a spicy encounter but if Carlos Queiroz has done anything with Iran it has been to instill an incredible level of discipline. Iran will go into this quarterfinal focused on playing the match and not the occasion.
Iran’s progress has been steady if not spectacular though they needed an injury time winner from Reza Ghoochannejhad against the United Arab Emirates to secure top spot in Group C. Under the guidance of Carlos Queiroz Iran are a steely, resolute outfit who are extremely difficult to break down and have the ability to strike ruthlessly if given a sniff.
The question is how adventurous will Queiroz be? Against the United Arab Emirates he left out both Ashkan Dejagah and Masoud Shojaei. The decision nearly backfired as Iran were seconds away from a quarterfinal clash with Japan before Ghoochannejhad intervened to spare Queiroz’s blushes. Given Iraq’s natural inclination to go forward the Portuguese tactician could see them as being ripe to be picked off on the counter. Queiroz has the personnel to pull off the result as well with an array of attacking talent, an industrious midfield, a solid defense and a confident goalkeeper. Collectively, this is a side that refuses to lose and if they take the lead it would be hard to see Iraq getting a foothold back into the contest.
Iraq have not had the most convincing of Asian Cup campaigns thus far. Their defense had some shaky moments against Palestine before striker Younis Mahmoud settled his side’s nerves. The vastly experienced Mahmoud will be a key player leading the line for Iraq against Iran.
Iraqi coach Radhi Shenaishil believes that victory over their arch-rivals will propel his side into the final and that a repeat of their 2007 success is certainly not out of the question. Iraq will have to rely on their flair and creativity and if their players click they could pose a number of problems going forward. However if they do over-commit and leave bodies forward they are susceptible to a swift counter. The Lions of Mesopotamia may have to curb their attacking instincts if they are to be in with a chance of causing a shock.
This won’t be just another game and the atmosphere will be electric when these two meet. It will need an almighty effort for Iraq to clinch a win. Iran are looking ominous though they have not hit their stride just yet.
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