Lippi switch takes China through
DUBAI, Jan 20, (RTRS): Three-times champions Iran came through an early scare before marching confidently into the Asian Cup quarter-finals for the 13th time in 14 attempts with a 2-0 victory over a spirited Oman team on Sunday. Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand saved an Oman penalty in the opening minute but a goal from winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh and a successful spot-kick from captain Ashkan Dejagah put Carlos Queiroz’s side firmly in control at halftime. They were unable to add any more goals in the second half but there was never any real doubt they would return to the same stadium on Thursday to meet Marcello Lippi’s China, 2-1 winners over Thailand in Al Ain earlier on Sunday. Oman, in the knockout stages of the Asian Cup for the first time and roared on by a large part of the 32,000 crowd, never flagged in their efforts and will forever ponder what might have been had Ahmed Mubarak converted the early penalty. Striker Muhsen Al-Ghassani, Oman’s best player, was hauled down by centre back Majid Hosseini but Beiranvand dived low to his right to deny the Oman skipper, as he had Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo at last year’s World Cup. The quality of Iran’s forward line was always going to cause Oman problems and Sardar Azmoun had the first of many shots at goal as early as the fourth minute.
Jahanbakhsh was soon causing the Oman defence problems down the right flank but it was from a more central position that he opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, pouncing on a defensive error and poking the ball into the net. Dejagah doubled the lead five minutes before the break after Mehdi Taremi had been bundled over in the box but Al-Ghassani quickly gave a reminder that Oman were not done with a powerful shot that Beiranvand tipped over the bar. Oman coach Pim Verbeek switched to a 4-4-2 formation at the break to chase the game but that opened up more space at the back and only the profligacy of the Iran forwards kept the lead at two goals.
Taremi and Azmoun vied for the title of worst offender but the Iran defence ensured Team Melli remained firmly on track to end the 43-year drought since their last continental title in 1976. Vietnam’s young guns guaranteed another night of frenzied celebrations back home when they beat Jordan 4-2 on penalties to reach the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup after extra time had failed to break a 1-1 deadlock .
It was a first knockout victory at the continental championship for Vietnam and set up a meeting with Japan or Saudi Arabia, both former champions, at the same stadium on Thursday. The match had finished all square after Jordan’s Baha Abdelrahman scored from an indirect free kick in the first half and Nguyen Cong Phuong equalised with a volley six minutes after the break. Vietnam’s Russian-born goalkeeper Dang Van Lam was the hero of the shootout after he dived low to his right to save Ahmad Saleh’s effort, allowing Bui Tien Dung to coolly convert his spot kick for the victory.
While the youthful Vietnam team had squeaked through to the last 16 by virtue of having a superior disciplinary record to Lebanon, Jordan had beaten reigning champions Australia and Syria to win their group. There could be no complaints about the midfielder’s strike, though, as he celebrated his 120th cap by crashing the ball into the roof of the net from the left-hand edge of the area. Going behind galvanised Vietnam and they peppered Amer Shafi’s goal before the break, the Jordan goalkeeper doing particularly well to tip Do Hung Dung’s drive over the bar.
The Jordan goal was finally breached for the first time at the tournament in the 51st minute when Nguyen Trong Hoang sent an inviting cross into the area and Phuong got between the central defenders to flick the ball into the net.
Marcello Lippi masterminded a second- half comeback to ensure China advanced to the last eight with a 2-1 win over Thailand. Lippi’s introduction of veteran Guangzhou R&F striker Xiao Zhi allowed the Chinese to turn their domination into goals as Xiao and Gao Lin netted to cancel out Supachai Chaided’s first-half opener.
China, who now play either Iran or Oman, were pushed all the way by their spirited opponents. The Thais fired a warning in the 27th minute when Teerasil Dangda’s deft header gave Supachai just enough space to fire off an attempt at goal only for the ball to go wide off Yan Junling’s left upright. There was no let-off four minutes later as poor defending allowed the Thais to take the lead.
Theerathon Bunmathan’s corner was only cleared as far as Thitiphan Puangchan and his miss-hit shot ended at the feet of Supachai who turned and slotted home. China offered little in the first 45 minutes and Supachai put them on the back foot again five minutes after the opener, only to drag his long-distance shot wide. The second half, though, saw China emerge in more determined fashion, with Wu Lei and Yu Dabao going close before Xiao’s introduction for Yu in the 64th minute swung the game.