ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Jan 23, (AP): South Korea, Japan and defending championas Australia all made it through to the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup knowing there is plenty of room for improvement. Even with the arrival of Tottenham forward Son Heung-min, South Korea struggled to beat Bahrain 2-1 in the last 16.
The 2015 finalists needed an extra-time goal from Kim Jin-su to advance and set up a quarter-final match against Qatar. “It was a tough game,” Son said. “It’s all about attitude as well, and I’m a bit unhappy with our performance. I think we’re better than that.” Australia needed a penalty shootout to get past Uzbekistan after 120 goalless minutes, and Japan were below their best in a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia. The quarter-finals take place on Thursday and Friday.
The final will be on Feb 1 in Abu Dhabi. When China play Iran on Thursday, many observers will looking at the benches. China are coached by Marcello Lippi, who led Italy to the 2006 World Cup title, while Iranare led by former Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiroz. Victory would give Lippi his best result in two years with China. He will leave the job after the Asian Cup. Queiroz has been in charge of Iran since 2011.
The 65-year-old Portuguese coach’s contract ends after the tournament and he has been widely linked with the vacant Colombia job. Iran have been the most consistent team at the tournament so far and are chasing a fifth straight victory. Four-time champions Japan have won all four of their games so far.
The second-round win over Saudi Arabia came as a result of a strong defensive performance from a team which no longer have Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki to provide goals. Japan, which reached the second round at last year’s World Cup, has yet to find its fluency in attack under coach Hajime Moriyasu but will still be expected to beat Vietnam in Dubai. Vietnam is riding high.
The penalty shootout win over Jordan in the previous round provoked street parties across the southeast Asian country to rival those that greeted the win in a regional championship in December. Australia will be without suspended influential playmaker Tom Rogic against tournament hosts United Arab Emirates in Al Ain on Friday.
The Socceroos have bounced back after an opening loss to Jordan but have yet to show their best form and have struggled against teams that have sat back on defense. A lack of goals was a concern for UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni before the competition started. Those worries have eased somewhat after the 3-2 win over Kyrgyzstan in the second round, but the backline appeared vulnerable.
South Korea, another team that have yet to showt heir best despite four straight wins, had to work hard to get past Bahrain. Without injured captain Ki Sungyueng, who has returned to Premier League club Newcastle, the South Koreans have struggled to either create or convert chances. Son was peripheral in the last 16 and has yet to score in the tournament. He should find more space against Qatar in Abu Dhabi on Friday. Along with Iran, 2022 World Cup host Qatar has been the most impressive team in the tournament so far, winning all four games without conceding a goal.