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Asian Cup

Highlights of China-Australia & South Korea vs Uzbekistan games

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The 2015 AFC Asian Cup witnessed a unique event. That’s right, for the first time since the tournament kicked off, there was a game that didn’t have a conclusive result after 90 minutes. South Korea versus Uzbekistan has the ‘honor’ of being that match as it finished 0-0 in normal time. However the 0-0 score line does not begin to indicate the action and the goalmouth drama witnessed in this game as the pair kicked off the knock-out phase of the competition.

In the night’s other match the hosts Australia faced a potentially tricky tie against China. The Chinese were not overawed by the occasion but they fell to a Tim Cahill brace as the Socceroos kept their hopes alive of winning the Asian Cup on home soil.

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 2 – 0 Uzbekistan (after extra time)

Ever heard of Maksim Shatskikh? He was recruited by Dynamo Kyiv shortly after they sold Andrei Shevchenko to AC Milan. For all intents and purposes he had a relatively successful spell there scoring 97 goals in 215 league appearances for the Ukrainian club breaking the 20 goal mark twice during his nine seasons at the club.

He is also Uzbekistan’s leading international goal scorer scoring 34 goals in just 61 internationals. Shatskikh bade farewell to international football on the 29th of May last year.

So, why mention him? The simple reason being that if Uzbekistan had a striker approaching the class of Shatskikh they would have probably booked a spot in the semifinals of the Asian Cup. He certainly would have done better with the chances that fell the way of Sanjar Tursunov and Lutfulla Turaev.

Uzbekistan were not afraid of taking the game to South Korea and Mirjalol Qosimov’s side’s desire to push forward contributed to an open and entertaining game of football. Once more Sardor Rashidov was impressive for the White Wolves with his pace and trickery causing problems down the South Korean left flank. Uzbekistan did have to contend with the early loss of Odil Ahmedov who was substituted because of injury.

That’s not to say that it was one-way-traffic because South Korea had put together neat moves too only to be denied by an inspired Ignatiy Nesterov who produced crucial saves to stop both Son Heung-min and Lee Jeong-hyeop. The Taeguk Warriors struggled to get to grips with the game initially especially in the first half when passes went astray. Uli Stielike’s side raised their performance in the second half though and slowly but surely exerted wrested control of the match as they began to complete their passes and shift the game up into Uzbekistan’s half.

Though the South Koreans couldn’t make the breakthrough in the 90 minutes the effort put in by Uzbekistan took its toll as the White Wolves faded in extra-time. Son Heung-min made the difference scoring a header from six yards out in the 104th minute but the Uzbekistanis were the architects of their own downfall as Shukhrat Mukhammadiev tried to dribble out from the edge of his penalty area only to have the ball pinched by his opposite number Kim Jin-su who centered for Son who appeared to collapse on the ball more than head it in.

In the second period of extra-time as Uzbekistan pushed for the equalizer they left themselves more exposed at the back. Stielike had left the pacy Cha Du-ri on the bench till the 70th minute and his freshness proved to be key in the set-up for the second goal as he tore down the right powering past a visibly tired Uzbekistan defense before squaring to Son Heung-min who took his time and then powered an unstoppable shot past Nesterov in the 119th minute. Son promptly collapsed from cramp after sealing his side’s passage through to the semis.

Uli Stielike was concerned with his team’s performance but was delighted with the mental toughness his troops displayed. That said they’re still in with a shout for lifting the Asian Cup.

As for Uzbekistan they once again will depart reflecting on what might have been.

Australia 2 – 0 China

The second quarterfinal saw another brace decide the outcome. This time it was Australian icon Tim Cahill who stood up providing his side with the strikes to send the Socceroos through to the semis.

Cahill and Mat Ryan could be the difference for the Australians as not many other teams left in the competition boast both a solid, dependable goalkeeper and a clinical finisher.

The Chinese came in and played with a certain freedom borne of three straight wins in the group stage.  Early on Sun Ke caused problems with Zhang Changdong providing width down the right flank. At the other end Wang Dalei further burnished his credentials as one of the standout goalkeepers in the tournament keeping out a Mathew Leckie effort in the first half.

No blame could be laid at the feet of Wang Dalei for either of Australia’s strikes.

Alain Perrin was critical of his team for the concession of the first goal shortly after the resumption of the second half. Zheng Zhi came off worse after contesting a header with Tim Cahill and was on the floor and none of his teammates thought to cover as the ball was knocked back into the box by Ivan Franjic. Wu Lei, who was close to Franjic, could have read the situation better to clear the danger but was caught flat-footed as the ball came out his way. This allowed Franjic the split-second he needed to head the ball back in to the area occupied by the stricken Zheng Zhi. Tim Cahill sniffing a chance opportunistically attempted an overhead and though it looked spectacular the goal it was a little fortuitous as the shot appeared to slice off the 35-year old’s boot wrong footing Wang Dalei in the process. Even Cahill admitted that the strike was “probably a fluke”.

If the first goal was a fluke then the second was classic Cahill. Matthew Leckie who worked tirelessly all game won the ball on the left and floated a ball in for Cahill. The Socceroos star stole a yard in between his markers and soared to steer a precise header past Wang Dalei. The goal displayed all of Cahill’s strengths: his ability to find space, his fantastic spring and the technique to accurately place his header into the corner of the net.

Cahill proved to be the difference as China had no equivalent player to convert any opportunity that came their way. The value of a clinical finisher is so important as pressure means nothing if chances are not converted into goals.

If Ange Postecoglou has any concern it would the nightmare scenario of Tim Cahill suffering an injury. Though the likes of Robbie Kruse, Massimo Luongo and Mathew Leckie have impressed none of them possess the goal threat of Cahill.

To be fair the Australians have been sharing the goals around the team but Cahill’s presence will scare any opponent. The space Cahill creates as a result of the opposition focusing on him aids his teammates insofar as creating space and opportunities for other Socceroo players to strike.

For now Australia are marching to the semifinals and ominously they look like they’re peaking at the right time.

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