United Arab Emirates 2019 – Asian Cup Review

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.

Qatar win the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, beating Japan 3-1 in the final

Qatar win the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, beating Japan 3-1 in the final. Image: the-afc.com

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.

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Kruse to the next phase; Japan await yet again

17 April 2016

With comfortable wins over Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh following the loss in Jordan, Australia’s final two matches at home were mostly academic. Two draws most likely would have been sufficient to qualify for the third round and final group phase of World Cup qualifying, while a win would guarantee it. Tajikistan proved to offer minimal resistance, losing 7-0 in Adelaide, while Jordan weren’t much better in their 5-1 loss in Sydney. Tajikistan conceded within 3 minutes and then another on 13 minutes before a 5-goal onslaught in the second half. Jordan lasted until the 24th minute before conceding, then conceded another two just before half time. Game over. For Jordan, after losing in Kyrgyzstan two games earlier and now requiring a win to guarantee a spot in the next round, it was heartbreaking. Remember, this was the team that made the intercontinental play-off in the last cycle.

Russia 2018 Asian World Cup Qualifying - Group B - Final Table

Most interesting to observe from these final two games was the team’s progression. They have had trouble putting teams away, and been dumb strategically. They were also too reliant on the aging Tim Cahill. Other players needed to step up, while the team needed to be smarter in their approach. Preferring more often to take the game to opponents, particularly away in the Middle East, it played into the hands of opponents, who’d sit back and pounce on the counter attack. Australia needs to remember that their opponents also are in it to win it, so away from home, let them be more adventurous and hit them on the break. Against Jordan, that philosophy was illustrated perfectly, and the results were comprehensive. They turned around a 2-0 loss away to a 5-1 win by simply allowing their opponents force some of the pressure.

Even more exciting was the improvement in many players. Robbie Kruse, who was finally back after a long injury spell, toyed with Jordan. It was one of his best games for Australia ever, and only dampened by a nasty tackle from behind by Jordan’s Yousef al Rawashde. How it wasn’t a red was mystifying. Even worse would have been another injury. Jordan were so rattled that they even threw a second ball on the field at one stage to stop a quick throw in. It failed miserably as Australia scored their fifth goal. Tom Rogic, now established in Scotland, has added a lethal shot and far superior decision making to his game. The three goals he scored in those two games were superb. Melbourne City’s Aaron Mooy has taken command in midfield, setting up and scoring goals. His passing is sublime, at a level not really seen in the Socceroos since Ned Zelic, or Milan Ivanovic with some of the long passing. Coach Ange Postecoglou even unearthed a bright new talent in Apostolos Giannou. He got his debut against Tajikistan, impressed with his pace and power, and only letdown by missing a sitter. He deserved a goal. Another letdown, becoming persistent too, is Matthew Leckie. He seems to have lost the plot, particularly with final balls into the box and shooting.

Onwards to the draw for the final group phase of qualifying. It’s no secret that the Socceroo Realm, as would many Australians, would love to see Australia play Iran again. It’s been nearly 20 years since the infamous Iran Game. Much of the chatter before the Jordan game was for Australia to win it to ensure a seeding as one of the top two teams. Supposedly that would avoid a tougher draw – based on FIFA rankings. No it wouldn’t, because FIFA rankings are a joke in their creation, and meaningless in a competitive field. Australia, Iran, Japan and Korea are arguably the top four teams in Asia and there’s little between them whatever some silly FIFA number sitting next to them wants to make us believe. In drawing the final two groups, two of these top four would play each other regardless. The only exception being that the top seed in each pot would not play each other. So for Australia to have a random chance at either Iran, Japan or Korea, they needed not to be seeded. As it turns out, they were one of the top two seeds. Guess which was the other? Iran. Depressing, and rigged. The top four should have been in one pot and randomly paired that way. In fact, the other 8 teams should be in one pot too, and randomly drawn. There should not be such a strict interpretation of these dopey FIFA rankings.

Immediately we knew Australia could not play Iran, so let’s hope we at least draw some new teams. We haven’t played Korea at all in World Cup qualifying since our entry into Asia, and drawing them would add to the rivalry generated from the epic Asian Cup 2015 final. Except for an early group phase two cycles ago, we’ve missed China too. Alas, nothing went our way. We got Japan for the third straight cycle, Thailand and three Middle Eastern teams. The only salvation is that Saudi Arabia is back on the ascend, so they should be interesting. UAE are on the rise too, finishing third in the Asian Cup. Iraq is the other team, who finished fourth in the Asian Cup, and can be dangerous. It’s a challenging draw.

Schedule

01 Sep 2016: Australia vs Iraq
06 Sep 2016: UAE vs Australia
06 Oct 2016: Saudi Arabia vs Australia
11 Oct 2016: Australia vs Japan
15 Nov 2016: Thailand vs Australia
23 Mar 2017: Iraq vs Australia
28 Mar 2017: Australia vs UAE
13 Jun 2017: Australia vs Saudi Arabia
13 Aug 2017: Japan vs Australia
05 Sep 2017: Australia vs Thailand

Note that there are six teams in each group, up from five from previous years. Obviously this is to allow more teams to be involved. It also means no more byes. The away trip to Japan is the second last match day, which could affect its prestige if both teams are safely qualified. The top two teams from each group automatically qualify for Russia 2018, with the two third teams playing off for a spot against CONCACAF’s fourth best team. That third-placed playoff is actually the only way Australia and Iran can meet in this World Cup qualifying cycle. Could it happen?

Round 2 Group Winners

Group A: Saudi Arabia
Group B: Australia
Group C: Qatar
Group D: Iran
Group E: Japan
Group F: Thailand
Group G: Korea Republic
Group H: Uzbekistan

Round 2 Best Second-Placed Teams

1. Iraq
2. Syria
3. United Arab Emirates
4. China

Round 3 Group Draw

Group A: Iran, Korea Republic, Uzbekistan, China, Qatar, Syria

Group B: Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Thailand

More: http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/preliminaries/asia/

Ambushed by Jordan… again

09 October 2015

08/10 Amman: Jordan 2 – Australia 0

After three relatively easy games in this first group phase of World Cup qualifying, Australia had its big test – away to Jordan – and failed… again. Like in 2012, Australia found itself 2-0 down in Amman. Unlike 2012, there’d be no last minute Australian goal to provide a small glimmer of hope to snatch a draw. The patterns of each match were eerily similar: Australia trying to control the game via possession, Australia wasting possession, Australia wasting chances, Jordan ambushing Australia, Jordan deserved winners. To be out-smarted once is bad enough; for it to happen twice shows an inability to learn. Whether that’s arrogance, in that Australia still has the mindset about Asia that “we should just beat these teams”, there still seems some residual notion of that.

The Asian Football Confederation has revamped its qualifying path, making a much streamlined affair, and also merging Asian Cup qualifying into the process. While the first phase is notionally more difficult with more teams in the groups and only the top team guaranteed to the second group phase, there’s actually more groups this time (8), most of the weaker nations are still involved (pre-qualifying only saw 6 eliminated), and the four best second placed teams also progress. Right now, Australia are the third best of the second placed teams. They also have the luxury of three of their final four matches at home, so have a great chance to reverse the result against Jordan (as they did last time with a 4-0 win in Melbourne), and accrue enough points that finishing second in the group would most likely be enough. The only away match is to Bangladesh, while Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Jordan are the home matches.

All the teams that advance from this first group phase automatically qualify for an expanded Asian Cup of 2019 while the rest play Asian Cup qualifiers as the second group phase of World Cup qualifying is on. It’s a thoroughly well thought and practical system. There were always too many qualifying matches, particularly for the Asian Cup, of which most bordered on training affairs for the bigger nations. Also, the smaller nations deserve their chance against the bigger ones in serious competition, while the bigger ones get to experience new countries and cultures like Australia has with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The big message from this game against Jordan is that Australia needs to change its approach when playing overseas against Middle Eastern teams. They are prepared to be patient and capitalise on mistakes, whether those mistakes be carelessness or from opposing pressure. All the talk of “controlling the game” is nonsense if there’s no reward for it. Arguably Jordan controlled the game much better despite conceding possession. Th axiom remains that it’s about usage of the ball, not the amount of time with it. Home teams like Jordan for this match are the ones under pressure to win. Therefore they should be respected in that manner. Allow them a bit of the ball. Let them take some risks coming forward. Let Australia do the ambushing.

One thing that won’t help is complaining about time wasting. Until FIFA clamps down on it with 10 minute expulsion of a player from the game for calling on a doctor, it’s a legitimate part of the game. Once Jordan took the lead just after half time, Australia allowed their frustration to affect their game. Tim Cahill was lucky not to spotted for knocking over a player off the ball late in the game. Cahill might also have already been aggrieved at being, again, a late substitution onto the field. It seems that coach Ange Postecoglou might be fading him from the first team selection, just in case he doesn’t last until the next World Cup.

Both of Jordan’s goals were apparently contentious. The first one came after Nathan Burns was dispossessed in midfield and a long ball sent through that saw Matthew Spiranovic concede a penalty. TV pundits mused whether Spiranovic should have been sent of as well. No. First, it was a 50/50 hustle for the ball that saw an inadvertent clip of Hamza Aldaradreh’s trailing leg. It’s not even a yellow card. Second, no goal scoring chance was denied. Jordan actually had a better chance thanks to it being a penalty, and it was duly converted by Hassan Mahmoud.

The second goal came after yet another 50/50 hustle, this time involving Jason Davidson after 84 minutes. He and his opponent both fell in the clash, which saw the ball then passed into space for Aldaradreh to pounce, and score. If anything, Davidson might have been called for obstruction after he seemed to trip himself first and then angled his body in front of his opponent, which contributed to the push he may then have received. While commentator Andy Harper was adamant it was a foul, those in the Fox Sports studio were not. Since Harper is also one that seems to want any hint of offside called, maybe it’s just best to disqualify his inane opinion on such matters. Both goals were totally fair. Football has a mystique of infairness onto which it prides itself, so the fair thing is to accept being beaten fairly, and by a better team, and learn for next time.

Previous Results

08/09 Dushanbe: Tajikistan 0 – Australia 3
Great perseverance by Australia. It took until 57 minutes to score, before another on 73 and then one more in injury time. Biggest fear seemed whether the stadium’s lighting would be strong enough.

03/09 Perth: Australia 5 – Bangladesh 0
After two goals in the first 8 minutes, this match started reminiscent of the first 10 minutes of American Samoa v Australia. American Samoa kept it 0-0 for 10 minutes before losing 31-0. Unlike American Samoa that could not hold on, Bangladesh conceded two more by 29 minutes and then only one more for the remainder of the game.

16/06 Bishket: Kyrgyzstan 1 – Australia 2
Unlucky to concede after two minutes from a bobbled free kick. Despite upsetting the Socceroos with their fast and direct style, Kyrgyzstan restricted mostly to spraying mid and long range shots. Class told in end.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Jordan gone, Iraq gone – A one-two punch and suddenly it’s easy

Melbourne: Australia 4 – Jordan 0

In just over one week Australian football fans have gone from despair about qualifying to pre-emptive celebration. The first punch was knocking out Jordan in this most defining of games – at Melbourne’s Docklands last night. It was the most pivotal and emotionally intense game probably since the Iran Game in 1997, given the high hopes and feverish anticipation of success that both games shared. The second punch came later in the night when Japan knocked out Iraq 1-0 in Doha.

Played, Points & GD
Jap 8, 17, +11
Aus 7, 10, 4
Oma 7, 9, -2
Jor 7, 7, -10
Irq 7, 5, -3

Schedule
18/06 Aus v Iraq; Jor v Oma

Next week’s equation is now simple: Australia must beat Iraq in Sydney only if Oman wins in Jordan. Any lesser result by Oman, Australia has already qualified for Brazil. Of course, with Australia playing several hours prior to Oman’s game, Australia has no choice than to seek a win. It’s just that there’s that comforting factor that a loss or draw means a late night vigil of the other game, cheering for Jordan to knock out Oman. With Jordan needing to win to make the third-placed playoff – and given their strong home form already with wins over Australia and Japan – Oman’s hopes seem low. Conversely, with Iraq knocked out from even a playoff spot and potentially coming to Australia as a totally deflated opponent, Australia’s hopes could not be higher coming into any live game.

The key to next week’s game will be an early goal. Arab teams seem to be weak mentally against non-Arab teams, easily capitulating if the game doesn’t go their way, just as Jordan fell apart last night. Hoping for a draw, they left the half time break at 1-0 and putting Australia under extreme pressure. To say there was a deja vu of that Iran Game is not an understatement. The entire stadium grew restless, frustrated at the reverse in dominance and also of so many missed chances had left the game finely balanced at 1-0. Unlike Terry Venables, coach in 1997, Holger Osieck did react to the parlous state of play, bringing on an actual striker, Archie Thompson. Within 30 seconds, he picked up the ball, charged the defence, passed off, dragged two defenders towards his run, and next thing you know the ball is in the net. Robbie Kruse was able to find Tim Cahill in plenty of space for a headed goal. From there, Kruse scored himself after a neat turn, while Lucas Neill scored his first Socceroos goal after heading from a corner scramble. It was his 91st game. All that Jordan could manage was substituting their goalkeeper late in the game, fearing another yellow card against him, as he constantly berated the referee in frustration. To say he was throwing in the towel, he literally did as he exited the field straight to the dressing room.

This was the first time this campaign that Osieck named the same team for successive matches. While it seems unwise to deviate for Iraq, it’s total negligence not to note the immediate transformation in lethality and energy when Thompson arrived. Cahill is not a striker and doesn’t behave like one. Too often he was in his own half retrieving balls. Again, often on breaks, no one was forward, meaning attacks broke down. In contrast, with an actual striker menacing the last line and pushing the defence back, suddenly there was all this space for attacking midfielders to exploit. The result was astounding. It’s not the first time either. Australia recovered late to beat Iraq earlier in the campaign. Finally: Brett Holman. The seduction is over. Can’t pass, runs erratically, shoots wildly and impetuous with decisions. While some of it can be forgiven for his energy and rare cracking goal and whatever else the coaches see, it was his inability to hit simple, short passes that really frustrated. In the interim between qualifiers and the World Cup, someone like Tomas Rogic – who replaced Holman during the game – must be tried. Better still, drop Cahill back to his customary and more dangerous role as lurking attacking midfielder and play a striker up front.

How times have changed with female sports journalists and specifically Fox Sports’ Melanie McLaughlin. Tim Cahill delivered his own knock-out by kissing her after the post-match interview – somewhat surprising her. This was the same player incredibly rude and disrespectful to her post-match Japan, MCG, 2009. It was some petulant protest about other sections of the media reporting alleged unruly behaviour at a Sydney bar by Cahill – something nothing to do with Fox Sports. It only hurt Cahill and the team’s image as fans deserved to hear answers to the excellent questions about the match. McLaughlin deserved an apology back then. Whether she received one, that determines the interpretation of the kiss. The original incident was covered in the page for South Africa 2010 qualifying on the website.

* Apologies for the abridged and late update. A broken collarbone from a bike crash meant another hospital visit and typing limited to just the left hand.

Photos: http://fb.me/M4yqNFZp 

Full site: socceroorealm.com