The Asian Cup just keeps getting better. Iran, UAE, Qatar and Bahrain are setting the standard on the pitch and in the stands. Michael Petkovic looks at five things we learned from Group C.
The three musketeers
We were again treated to some spectacular offensive play by the Emirati attacking trio. Omar Abdulrahman was breathtaking at times showing how rounded his game really. He looks like he has so much time on the ball and makes the most of it with some stunning passes. Ali Mabkhout showed his power and inventiveness in the box on more than one occasion. The play for the first goal was wonderful and was repeated on numerous occasions with Mabkhout nearly adding to his three goals in the competition. Ahmed Khalil showed his class with some brilliant movement and hold up play as well as showing his deadliness from set pieces. UAE are among the most electrifying nations to watch at the Asian Cup. They will be a source of joy at the tournament and it’s in the best interests of the fans that they go far.
Iran shows offensive depth
It was a surprise when the team sheet was submitted for Iran’s game against Qatar and the name of their trusty striker Reza Goochannejhad was absent. Instead, coach Carlos Queiroz opted for Sardar Azmoun, the 20-year-old Rubin Kazan forward, as a lone striker. Azmoun was impressive in his 60 minutes, chipping in with some quality touches and a great goal which required a brilliant turn and a composed finish. The reason for Goochannejhad being rested is still unknown, but if Queiroz’ reaction to some of his play is anything to go by then it may have been more than a simple rest. Whatever the reason for the striker’s absence, Queiroz can be confident that should he need something different, he has options in the final third. He also has the number 10 Karim Ansarifard who plays for Osasuna and has nine goals for the international team. Queiroz may need all three after failing to show much positive attacking movement in their match against Qatar.
A real show for the fans
Group C has continued where it left off in round one, with some exciting action and open football for the fans. All the competitors in the group have come to attack and they back themselves in every game. Iran and UAE set the standard as attacking masters, but Bahrain and Qatar have fulfilled their end of the bargain as well. Bahrain pushed Iran all the way in their opening game and were a real threat in the box against UAE. Qatar, a team with everything to lose after a disappointing opening game, was expected to sit back and absorb pressure from Iran and then try to catch them off balance. Instead, they gave the fans what they wanted - relentless attack, which even caught Iran flat footed at times. The fans have appreciated the wonderful show, displaying their gratitude with great crowd figures exceeding expectations. The average for the tournament is over 16,000 and if we continue being treated to this type of football that number will only grow, especially considering we still have the knockout stage ahead of us.
A game of two halves
Iran have played 90 minutes of good football in this tournament - the second halves of both their games. While it has been enough to get them past challenging but lacking teams, in Qatar and Bahrain, it will be insufficient against tournament heavyweights such as Japan and Australia. If Iran hope to live up to their billing as the number one team in Asia and avoid disappointing the tremendous support they have been privileged to experience during the tournament, then they have to start their games the way they finish them. The lack of intensity in their opening halves may come down to a shortage of match practice before the tournament, so this could just be a teething process. A positive to come out of their games is two clean sheets. Iran are yet to concede a goal and have employed a brilliant defensive structure which does take away from their attack at times. They focus on a narrow and solid defensive four which relies on the wingers tucking in and every other man getting behind the ball. The class of the team is evident but they need a balance of defence, attack and possession if they wish to achieve their goal and take out the Asian Cup for the first time in 40 years.
Three legitimate contenders emerge
More than half way through the group stage and we have seen enough football from all the nations present to determine the legitimate contenders to the title. Three teams are clearly head and shoulders above the rest. First Iran, the highest ranked nation at the tournament, have shown their danger on the break and with their new defensive structure and deep bench, they will be hard to beat. The Socceroos have hit form at exactly the right time after many questions about their preparation coming into the tournament. Ange Postecoglou has lived up to his promise of attacking football, with the Green and Gold notching up eight goals in two games and conceding only one. Last Japan, the obvious favourites coming into the tournament will be hard to beat, but they may not be invincible. Shinji Kagawa has revealed his team are struggling with the Australian humidity. While each team has their strengths they also have some weaknesses which only heightens the interest in the upcoming knockout stage.comments