Thursday, July 26, 2007


Gulf Showdown

Iraq getting past South Korea was perhaps not a huge surprise, given the quality of the Iraqi side and the Koreans' bluntness up front throughout the tournament. But few pundits could honestly claim to have predicted Japan's loss to Saudi Arabia.

The first semi-final followed a pattern that was predictable for anyone who had watched the Koreans' previous matches. They pressed well, moved the ball around commendably and rarely gave much away in defence. But they went to pieces in and around the opposition box, often shooting hastily or wasting the final pass. Lee Chun-Soo, as Paul Trimboli correctly concluded, was simply trying too hard, and the other forwards just haven't done enough at this tournament.

Little Choi Sung-Kuk, lavishly praised in many quarters, flattered to deceive, often blitzing his way to within sight of goal but faltering when it really mattered.

For their part, the Iraqis, put under genuine pressure on the ball for the very first time at the event, suddenly looked distinctly fallible. Nashat Akram was, for once, quite anonymous, and was readily eclipsed in midfield by the industrious Qusay Munir. The Iraqis, their space and time on the ball diligently limited by Pim Verbeek's charges, turned over possession with regularity in the first half.

Perhaps the Koreans deserved to win, but a side that has failed to score in nearly five hours of football should not really be in a tournament final.

Japan, calm and steady throughout the event, eventually found that steadiness and tactical discipline just weren't enough. Against the Saudis, when a change of tack was so obviously required, they refused to budge from their measured build-ups until injury time in the second half, when they finally started belting the ball into the mixer (and, it might be added, causing the uneasy Saudi defence some concern as a result).

At the other end, the Saudis' admirable technique and trickery always looked likely to pose problems, and their second and third goals were of the highest quality. After scoring the finest team goal at the event in their game against Uzbekistan, the Saudis duly provided the best individual goal of the competition last night, the irrepressible Malek Maaz ridiculing Yuki Abe on the left before cheekily toe-poking the ball home.

After the game, Andy Harper picked out the Al-Qahtani brothers and the aforementioned Maaz as the Saudis' only players of consequence, but this is unfair, in my view. The thoughtful midfielder Taisar Al-Jassam has had an excellent tournament, and Ahmed Al-Mousa has done so well as substitute in the Saudis' last two games that Helio dos Anjos will surely be tempted to start him in Sunday's final.

It is in defence that the Saudis are clearly weak - the goalkeeper, Yasar Al-Mosailem, is an obvious liability - but I wonder whether the Iraqis have the physical presence to really hit them where it hurts. Younis Mahmoud, Iraq's main man up front, has won no end of plaudits in the last couple of weeks, but he has been somewhat hit-and-miss in the last couple of games.

The final is a difficult one to pick, but I'll go with the Saudis. Although they will not press the Iraqis as much as the Koreans did, I feel they have the edge in terms of quality up front. Malek Maaz has been a revelation, Yasser Al-Qahtani remains a serious danger, and there are a couple of midfielders who know how to slip a ball through to the forward line, too.

Having said that, I'd love to see an Iraqi victory, given the unspeakable horrors that their country has endured over the last several years.

The political dimension of this clash is irresistable. Iraq and Saudi Arabia are adjacent countries, and never close friends. Football in Iraq is probably a stronger force for the kind of secular nationalism that the country needs than any of the military and diplomatic game playing going on. And Saudi Arabia, whilst living under a form of Sharia Law itself, is ostensibly on the side of the Americans.

I for one am pleased the East Asians, with their sleazy use of the rules - diving, appealing constantly to the ref, feigning injury - have been knocked out. I only watched a handful of the non-Australia games, but from my view it was Iraq and Uzbekistan who really showed us how to play.
Good luck to the Iraqis.

Whichever way this one goes, i think it'll be a good match.
I warned previously that Abe & the flapper in goal were potential weak points for Japan - well they lost 'em the SF against an inferior team.

A makeshift outfit like Iraq getting to the Final just goes to show how weak football really is in Asia, just marginally better than Concacaf. The Aussies were caught cold this time in alien conditions - there's no way they will fail to take one of the 4.5 places on offer for future World Cups.

I also missed much of the group stages due to Jp satellite tv not bothering to show most matches live (Malaysia v China, 3am anybody?)
Even the QFs featuring Korea, S Arabia & Iran were not actually on live in this country (mind you even in Japorea 2002 Korea's group matches were not screened on terrestrial tv)

Maybe this kind of comp is old hat, the Jps won't get proper credit here now til they do something notable in a World Cup.

Tokyo Pom
...I for one am pleased the East Asians, with their sleazy use of the rules - diving, appealing constantly to the ref, feigning injury - have been knocked out....

A little unfair IMO, Hamish...I thought the Japanese, Koreans and Chinese played reasonably fair on the whole. The worst instance of play-acting I've seen at the tournament so far was actually from the Saudi keeper near the end of the semi-final. That was just disgraceful, and should have earned him a yellow.

The ACL was another matter, I thought the Chinese sides in particular engaged in some dreadful gamesmanship there.
mike, nice wrap again, some similar sentiments to mine...except I thought Younis still provided a bit of a threat up front...perhaps I was comparing him to his rather ineffective counterpart Cho Jae-jin, who had nothing but a bit of they missed Reading's Seol!!

Japan were terrible tactically, playing right into Saudi's game-plan. Very surprised at how poorly Osim adapted during the game (basically he didnt).

Congratulations to the finalists, who have both played some enterprising football, should be a good one.
I hope Iraq win to get a new name of the trophy.

Japan have had recently dominated Asian football, but before them it was Saudi Arabia, hopefully Iraq will come through and take the glory they fully deserve
Well I'm sure you're right overall Mike, and you watched a lot more of the football than I did. Actually when I think about it further the worst antics I saw was from the Oman team, which blows my East Asia/West Asia analysis anyway.

In general I have enjoyed the Iraqi games however. In tempo and organisation they're closer to Australia's style. Maybe it's just the high expectations on Japan and Korea that makes me a little biased against them. I'm sure many Asian fans felt the same way about Australia.

Meanwhile, go Iraq! Your country needs a morale boost like no other.
Hard to be behind a team that has had their woodwork save them from conceding six times so far in the knockout stage (plus another Uzbekistan goal incorrectly disallowed).

Forza Iraq.
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