26 February 2019
The Asian Cup of 2019, held in the United Arab Emirates, came and went without much fanfare, as seemingly much of Socceroos in recent tournament appearances have been. An opening group game loss to Jordan 1-0, a 3-0 win over the far inferior Palestine in the second game, and a scratchy 3-2 win in the final game against Syria, didn’t inspire much hope that things would change this tournament. Indeed, it took penalties to overcome Uzbekistan after teams couldn’t score in 120 minutes, before elimination 1-0 to the UAE in the quarter finals.
Possession of 73% for 3 shots on goal against 4 for Jordan typified much of the Australia’s performance, both in the UAE and in recent years. While it might look nice, this “keepings off” style has always been a coward’s way of playing. Ultimately it’s about results with the ball, and Jordan showed Australia how it’s done. Although Australia was a bit unlucky, and there definitely should have been a penalty in the first half, it was a well deserved win by Jordan and we were simply out-smarted (another reoccurring theme these days). The one salvation is the Socceroos lost to Korea in 2015 and won the Asian Cup. With 24 teams in this edition, it means 4 points from Palestine and Syria would likely be enough. A reminder: Tom Rogic still can’t shoot.
The response to the 1-0 loss to Jordan as being an embarrassment was an embarrassment in itself. Facts are that Jordan are a decent side, played disciplined football, while Australia lacks quality and is too obsessed about looking good. Forget the crap about styles and play the opponent. This isn’t figure skating. Then Palestine comes along, and how quickly it changes. Australia were 2-0 up at half time and commentators were inexplicable at describing the difference between this game and Jordan. It was simple: one team was Palestine, the other was Jordan. Palestine are effectively the Jordan D-team so Australia should be dominating. While they did that to a degree, that the third and final goal came so late was a concern. Australia again seemed to lack ideas with the ball and should have scored more. Overall a good result, with hopes to improve further against Syria, where only a draw was required to feel safe.
In the final group game against Syria, it seems two wrongs do make a right when it comes to penalties. One was a penalty and not given, while the other one was clearly not a penalty and was given. You suspect the referee was told of his first half error and try atone for it in the second half. Finally Rogic actually hits a shot to secure the win. 3-2 a fair result as the Socceroos dominated chances.
The round of 16 match against Uzbekistan was only notable for the comprehensive 4-2 win in the penalty shootout after the game ended with the score 0-0. If Australia had such clinical finishing during the actual game that they did during the shootout, then life wouldn’t be so difficult for them. Overall, they performed a tad better than Uzbekistan on the night so deserved to progress.
In the quarter final against the UAE, it was a deja vu of the match against Jordan. Dominate the game, dominate possession, waste chances, give away possession, concede a goal through a mistake (a poor backpass), cannot recover. Ironically, the UAE goal originated from a successful backpass by them, which the goal-keeper launched forward. The 1-0 loss was so predictable and a sad realisation, at the completion of this tournament, the team isn’t good enough. Even worse, there’s no signs of any improvement, and it’s doubtful results would have been any better even if the team’s best player, Aaron Mooy, wasn’t out injured before the tournament. The World Cup will expand to 48 teams for 2026. Australia will want it brought forward by four years the way things are going.
Qatar won the tournament with a superb display. As hosts for the 2022 World Cup, they’ll want to perform on the pitch, and if this Asian Cup is any indication, they should be competitive. They never conceded until the final against Japan and scored some cracking goals. Against Japan, they dominated the opening half with two great goals, and then held out to win 3-1. There was a bit of controversy about their third goal, whether the handball for a penalty was intentional or not. FIFA are moving away from this spurious concept, as intent can never be known. It was a clear handball and prevented Qatar to further attack the ball after it was headed towards goal, so a definite penalty. It wasn’t a blatant foul, so the yellow card was wrong. If you want to add intent into the handball rule, then it’s only for disciplinary action, not the infringement itself.
Overall, it was an enjoyable Asian Cup, and it was pleasing to see plenty of people in attendance. The expansion to 24 teams meant group games were kept alive much longer, and we saw unfamiliar faces, not only in the tournament, through to the knockout phase too. Kyrgyzstan lost 3-2 to the UAE in extra time in their round of 16 clash, while Vietnam reached the quarter finals before narrowly losing 1-0 to Japan. India were the highlight on the first main day of group matches when demolishing Thailand, 4-1. Losses to UAE (2-0) and Bahrain (1-0) meant they finished last in their group. So much for the theory that the first game is the most important to win. It’s always about total points collected, not when you collect them.