Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Asian Cup - The Semis

Down to the last four in the Asian Cup, and although the semi-final line-up is not really anything out of the ordinary, the roads that a couple of the teams have taken to get there have been slippery indeed.

So then, a preview:

Korea Republic v. Iraq

If Korea end up winning the tournament, they owe a significant vote of thanks to the Indonesian striker Elie Aiboy, who fluffed an excellent chance against them in the final minute of their third group game. Had he scored, Korea would have exited the tournament in even more ignominious fashion than Australia.

The withdrawal of Park Ji-Sung and others has left Pim Verbeek's squad somewhat short of craft, but they have no shortage of tactical discipline and fighting spirit. The Iranians found space and time on the ball very hard to come by in the quarter-final, and although Korea did not often threaten at the other end, their defence never looked all that likely to be breached. It was a match which, in truth, had penalties written all over it from the half-hour mark.

It's hard to find a real defensive weakness in the Korean ranks, but they have lacked some consistency up front; neither Cho Jae-Jin nor Lee Dong-Gook have had a particularly good tournament. The left-winger Yeom Ki-Hun, impressive in the earlier games, seems to have run out of puff.

Iraq barely raised a sweat in their quarter-final against a largely supine Vietnam, and this could be very important with the semi-final in mind. They have had an extra day's rest, and the Koreans were forced to extra time and penalties by the Iranians.

Although complacency occasionally crept into the Iraqis' play against Vietnam, there is much to like about their team. Nashat Akram continues to be a commanding influence in midfield, Hawar Mohammed is full of ideas on the left, and with Salih Sadir to return to the side to support the prolific Younis Mahmoud, Iraq will have plenty to offer in the final third.

I'm going to pick an upset in this one. Korea will be very hard to breach, but I feel that tiredness might just be the deciding factor in the contest.

Japan v. Saudi Arabia

Japan have played steadily and well throughout the tournament. Although Shunsuke Nakamura has not yet reached the heights of which he is capable, Naohiro Takahara is in incisive form, and the midfield duo of Keita Suzuki and Kengo Nakamura has anchored the side commendably. Their defence has looked more solid as the tournament has progressed, too.

They do still lack some punch in the final third, especially in the "final ball" department. Australia vouchsafed them a good deal of possession at times during the quarter-final (particularly, of course, after Vince Grella's dismissal), but Ivica Osim's team were surprisingly laboured in their attacks and relatively toothless from set-pieces.

At times, against Australia, they were unnecessarily deferential, I thought (their twin centre-halves played extraordinarily deep for much of the game). It's unlikely that they will be as cautious against the Saudis.

The Saudi Arabia v. Uzbekistan quarter-final was far and away the most open and thrilling game of the tournament so far. The result was somewhat unfair on the Uzbeks, who played some tremendous football in the first half, hit the woodwork several times, and had a perfectly legitimate goal ruled out for offside in one of the worst decisions of the tournament.

The Saudis were lively and inventive in attack (their second goal was an absolute gem, easily the best team goal of the event), but their defence was all at sea in the opening period. They struggled to cope with the strength and movement of the Uzbek attack, conspicuously failed to track runs from midfield, and never got to grips with the clever left-wing incursions of Vitaliy Denisov, one of the stars of the tournament.

If Japan's attack is on song, then they will surely find plenty of gaps. It would be a good time, too, for Shunsuke Nakamura and Yasuhito Endo to rediscover their set-piece prowess; against Uzbekistan, the Saudis again gave ample evidence of their deficiencies in this department.

I'll pick Japan, but it won't be a walkover by any means.

From what I've seen (which admittedly hasn't been as much as I'd like, even though I have Foxtel), I'd say that the best four so far have been Japan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, in no particular order. Uzbekistan have been a bit unlucky and have had a tough draw all the way through. I wonder how'd they go in European qualifying.
Indeed Mike, some similar sentiments, nice job.

Re Iraq getting through,I'd love to see it. I read an interesting piece on twg today which quoted a senior afc official talking of a dream 'japan-korea' final.

Then I read another article talking about the logistical problems of Iraq's move to Malaysia.

I start to worry when I read stuff like this.

Re Denisov, yes, it was a excellent first half, but I remember an equally impressive showing in the first half against Iran on md1. Then Kezemian came on at the break and carved him up in the 2nd. Reckon he might be one of those decent attacking winbgbacks that can be a bit less dependable the other way.

At this stage and after Zandi was left on the bench in the qf, I'm having Bassim Abbas as my left back for the team of the tournament, just ahead of Komano at this stage.
The Round Ball Analyst wrote - "......Re Iraq getting through,I'd love to see it. I read an interesting piece on twg today which quoted a senior afc official talking of a dream 'japan-korea' final.

Then I read another article talking about the logistical problems of Iraq's move to Malaysia.

I start to worry when I read stuff like this....."

You might not be wrong here Tony. Just read today's SMH, and I'll quote an excerpt from it.

....... "Meanwhile, Iraq's Brazilian coach, Jorvan Vieira, has slammed the AFC for leaving his weary players stranded for hours without hotel rooms.

Vieira said his players waited for four hours at the Prince Hotel lobby in Kuala Lumpur after arriving from Bangkok on Monday before only eight rooms were made available for 31 people.

Iraq play South Korea on Wednesday in an Asian Cup semi-final and Vieira said their travelling ordeal nullified any advantage they had over the Koreans in terms of an extra day's rest.

Vieira said the Iraqi team had planned to leave Bangkok on Sunday but stayed an extra day on the AFC's advice. "The AFC said if we come to Malaysia on Sunday, we would have to stay in another hotel and then move to the Prince Hotel the next day," he said.

"The AFC must realise this is not a tourist group, we are an international team. They gave us guarantees but they could not keep those guarantees."

South Korea coach Pim Verbeek had expressed concern that his players had one day less to prepare for the semi-final than Iraq, who only played 90 minutes against Vietnam in the quarters.

However, Vieira said the advantage had now swung the other way. "If you ask me who has the advantage, I think the Koreans are in a better position than us now, especially after what we went through," he said................"

Seems the games have already begun.
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