The AFC Asian Cup, Round Two: Clean Sheets Akimbo

by | Jan 15, 2019

Hey, statistical freak fans. None of the 12 winners of the 12 second round games (no draws), in the tournament that dare not show its face on British telly, conceded a goal. And hey, Fulham fans. At least two team’s defending is worse than your team’s. Mark Murphy elucidates.

Group A: United Arab Emirates 2 India 0; Bahrain 0 Thailand 1

It wasn’t Sunil Chhetri’s day. Ergo, it seems, it wasn’t India’s day. Chhetri had two of India’s three glorious first-half chances but headed one as straight as a dye at UAE keeper Khalid Bilal and hooked the second one wide after outpacing his marker(s) to a big boot downfield.

Indian boss Stephen Constantine, whose accent betrays his nomadic managerial career, momentarily forgot he had no hair to tear out after Chhetri’s second miss and held his head in his hands instead. For AGES. Because, a minute earlier, the UAE had scored via Khalfan Mubarak’s deflected dink. “Thankfully,” UAE boss Alberto Zaccheroni said modestly afterwards, “I made some changes” at half-time. But they didn’t change much. Until tiring late on, India were still on top and their best non-Chhetri player, Udanta Singh, tested the VERY underside of the crossbar on 55 minutes.

Ismail Al-Hamadi hit the Indian post with a toe-poke (a favoured finish in this tournament) before Ali Makhbout made it 2-0 late on from another big boot downfield. Sandesh Jhingan hit the UAE bar again. And it might have been best, in case there were kids watching, that the highlights I saw didn’t include Constantine’s reaction.

Thailand’s (presumably peroxide) ‘blonde bombshell’ Chanathip Songkrasin gleefully left-foot volleyed their winner against Bahrain. Thailand had all the clear second-half chances after a desperate first half and striker Adisak Kraisornhit the post with a late right-foot shot. All guided by interim coach, remember the name, Sirisak Yodyathai, which is clearly Thai for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

So, only a last-minute penalty to Bahrain, the nation of AFC president Sheikh Salman, in their match against India would allow Bahrain and Thailand, the nations complicit in the continuing unjust detention of Hakeem Al-Araibi, to qualify instead. And that would be blatant corr…wait…what? Oh… Details, including the fact that it WAS a penalty (damn), in the next article.

Group B: Australia 3 Palestine 0; Jordan 2 Syria 0

Having survived Harry Redknapp, Jordan were bound to survive this group. Clearly, no-one in the Syrian camp studied footage of Jordan’s winner against Australia, because the same simple short corner worked again, Tareq Khattab thumping home this header, from Mousa Suleiman’s 43rd-minute cross. Jordan were already ahead, on 26 minutes, through “Yourif Rawshdeh, via a deflection,” according to one Australian match commentator. Harsh, that, on YOUSEF Rawshdeh’s team-mate Suleiman, whose “defection” it was.

As against Palestine, Syria had chances. As against Palestine, the best fell to Omar Khribin. Ergo, ‘Syria 0’ again. Syria’s Ahmed Al-Saleh came closer with a deft second-half header. Closer to his own net. Thus, Jordan were the first last-16 qualifiers. Chris Sutton will be delighted.

Australia probably didn’t need Tom Rogic to thump Palestine. But, just in case, Rogic pinged a pinpoint left-wing cross onto Jamie Maclaren’s head for the 18th-minute opener, the Hibernian forward’s first international goal, after he’d ‘Hibs-ed’ an earlier chance with an air-shot from 10 yards.

Awar Mahil was about the only Aussie to emerge from the Jordan game with any credit. And he tapped in Chris Ikonomidis’s far-post in-swinger on 20 minutes while Palestine’s defence resembled fans who failed to get a ticket for the sold-out game (small stadium, mind) but bunked into better views than expected.

And Palestine’s defending was even worse for the last-minute third goal, sub Apostolos Giannou simply walking round his marker, Mus’ab Battat, to nod in another Ikonomidis delivery from a yard-and-a-half.

“Cherry, meet cake,” wrote Guardian Australia’s Jonathan Howcroft, clearly discombobulated by the ease, or perhaps just the mere fact, of the victory. In truth, Australia could have guaranteed qualification on goal difference as a best third-placed team if required. But as ‘Syria 0’ are next, that shouldn’t matter.

Group C: China 3 Philippines 0; South Korea 1 Kyrgyzstan 0

At least one-and-a-half bits of brilliance from Wu Lei took China into round two. His first goal, on 40 minutes, was an overhit cross/wondrous chip, depending on your mood. But there was no doubting his second. There was more arch to his back than a Roger Moore eyebrow as he volleyed in from 15 yards, throwing a body-shape you could pull a muscle by looking at. China’s third was as slobbery as the second was sumptuous, sub Yu Dabao heading in with his first touch after Manuel Ott handled Wu Xi’s flick-on from a near-post corner and his Filipino defensive colleagues posed for photos.

“I hope we can always play like we played today,” China boss Marcello Lippi proclaimed. He’s easily-pleased.

South Korea didn’t exactly have to find room for Son Heung-Min to return to their side, having missed their first two games. But there’s plenty of it. As they missed four sitters against Kyrgyzstan.

The fourth, by Hwang Hee-Chan, was accredited to “witchcraft” by disbelieving commentator and veteran ITV favourite John Helm, who earlier suggested there was a magnet on the crossbar Hwang Ui-Jo struck twice in the second half from about nine yards in total , although Hwang’s first effort looked over the line and the first miss, Lee Chung-Yong’s on 37 minutes, was probably the worst miss, four yards out, three yards over.

Fortunately, the winner arrived three minutes later. After all their ineffectual intricacy, they took the simplest, most direct route to goal, centre-back Kim Min-Jae glance-heading in a near-post corner for his international scoresheet breakthrough. They are through, with no goals against. But that’s a huge spin on two semi-turgid displays, against tournament minnows in, if not the ‘Group of Death,’ then certainly the ‘Group of Barely Alive.’ Son Heung-Min, your time has come.

Group D: Islamic Republic of Iran 2 Vietnam 0; Iraq 3 Yemen 0

The ‘big lad up front’ is proving the star of Iran’s show, although the 38th-minute close-range header with which Sardar Azmoun opened the scoring against Vietnam’s busybee defence was mostly down to a near-geometrically-impossible far-post cross by Saman Ghoddos (nicknamed ‘waiting for’ by…oh…it’s just me, isn’t it? Sorry).

Vietnam’s tiny-tot-by-comparison striker Nguyen Cong Phuong is having a, let’s say, contrasting tournament. He squandered a fine 52nd-minute chance to equalise, firing at Iran keeper Dang Van Lam from 15 yards. And, 17 minutes later, Azmoun swept the ball home left-footed from a similar position amid “a couple of swipes” from nearby defenders.

Iran are through, with no goals against. And there the comparison with South Korea ends. Iraq are through too, which might give their clash with Iran a bit less meaning. Might not, though.

Yemen were hopeless, nowhere near entering ‘plucky territory’ as they, sort of, did against Iran. A dozy Hussain Al-Ghazi gifted Mohanad Ali possession for Iraq’s 11th-minute opener, although the teenager still weaved through a number of bodies on the edge of the box before lashing the ball home. Bashar Resan’s deflected 19th-minute shot seemed to wrong-planet rather than just wrong-foot Yemeni netminder Saoud Al-Sowadi, who flapped at the spinning ball pretty much as I would have.

Mohanad Ali was the width of a post from his second goal after the break. And the third goal was an oddment, Alaa Abbas Al-Fartoosi (it sez here) firing home an opportunity which Ali Adnam had to work hard to create with a back-post header from which it looked easier to score himself.

Iran/Iraq on Wednesday, people.

Group E: Qatar 6 (SIX) North Korea 0; Saudi Arabia 2 Lebanon 0

Qatar’s Almoez Ali was the major beneficiary of North Korea’s stupefying defending, which rocketed him to the top of the tournament’s scoring charts. Three defenders formed a guard of honour as he fired home the eighth-minute opener. His second was a clever backheel which he “made to look a lot more easier.” Easier than what, we weren’t told.

Boualem Khoukhi headed number three in from four yards after Akram Afif lobbed keeper Ri Myung-Guk, whose rush from goal looked more like a bid for political asylum than the ball. Afif supplied Ali again on 55 minutes, who predictably beat Korea’s L-shaped offside trap and tucked the ball past the, again, on-rushing Myung-Guk to complete the finals’ first hat-trick.

Ali’s fourth and Qatar’s fifth arrived on the hour (“gets the technique spot on,” ran the commentary, over footage of Ali horribly scuffing another Afif through-ball). And, remarkably, neither Afif nor Ali were involved in goal number six, Abdelkarim Hassan running 30 yards through, count ‘em, NO tackles before shooting past the on-rushing etc… on, ulp, 68 minutes.

North Korea’s Jong Il-gwan saw red on 90 minutes, getting a second booking, for about the only Korean tackle of the match. But Qatar had long-declared by then. Pity only 452 people were there to see it.

Saudi Arabia didn’t really need help to beat Lebanon but got it anyway on 11 minutes. Alexander Melki’s misguided clearance off his thigh ballooned into the air and the dropping ball was thrillingly volleyed into the roof of the net by Fahad Al-Muwallad before keeper Mehdi Kalul could even get his hands up in surrender.

Kalul made amends in photogenic fashion after half-time to deny Hatan Bahbri from long-range but on 67 minutes, Bahbri’s sharp left-foot cross was diverted in from close-range by Hossain Al-Moghawi. The House of Saud are through, with no goals against, halfway between Iran and South Korea in quality.

Group F: Japan 1 Oman 0; Turkmenistan 0 Uzbekistan 4

Calls for VAR at Asian Cups may be led by Oman for a bit after they lost to a misfiring Japan thanks to an appalling penalty decision. On 28 minutes, Oman’s Raed Saleh put in the mother, father, brother and sister of all ‘forward’s challenges as Genki Haraguchi flew towards the penalty area, But the key word there was ‘towards.’

The referee was literally right in line to see Saleh eventually land a yard outside the box after his airborne swipe at…well…it wasn’t clear what. He made contact with fresh air, which was also outside the box. The ref gave the penalty anyway and Haraguchi scored. Omani keeprr Faiyz Al-Rusheidi had made a string of fine saves in the preceding five minutes. And Japan’s Yuto Nagatomo made a left-handed one, inches before half-time. Japan’s problem was, Nagatomo’s a defender. Oman’s problem was that the ref didn’t seem to care.

So, Japan through, unimpressively, to be joined by Uzbekistan, very impressively indeed. A four-goal first-half blitz put paid to Turkmenistan. Javokhir Sidikov nearly put paid to his left leg when he slid into the post after sliding in the first goal, on 17 minutes. It was 2-0 seven minutes later, Eldor Shomurodov finding the bottom corner from the edge of the box.

And it was two in two more minutes just before half-time, Jaloliddin Masharipov ran onto a loose ball and thumped it home while the Turkmen defence stood staring like a collective David Luiz on an off-day. And, on 42 minutes, Shomorudov evoked memories of Tottenham’s famous ‘push-and-run’ side of the early 1950s, pushing over Turkmen defender Zafar Babajanov and running away with the ball before rounding keeper Mammet Orazmuhammedov and firing home. Otabek Shukurov hit the Turkmenistan post in the second half. But four was enough.

The Uzbeks are knock-out stage veterans in this competition. But surely never as comprehensively as this.