Asian Cup: Five things we learned from Group C

Iran and UAE are through to the last eight of the Asian Cup at the expense of Bahrain and Qatar. Michael Petkovic reveals five things we learned from the final matchday of Group C.

How good is he?

Omar Abdulrahman had arguably his best outing on Monday night against Iran, showing his undoubted value to the Emirati team and the tournament itself. It’s an absolute pleasure to watch a player with total skill, a rare thing to find in an age dominated by physical power and pace. The pure technique, creativity and cunning displayed by the UAE number 10 impressed Robbie Slater enough to dub him the ‘Emirati Maradona’. He is a player that strikes fear into the opposing manager’s hearts and at his best, is simply unplayable. The most frightening thing is how complete his game is. Matching his skill he is a wonderful left foot and a great work rate. He can be found all over the pitch, even occasionally dropping between his centre halves and starting the play himself. He enchanted fans throughout the group stage and will continue to do so in the finals of a fantastic tournament so far. If you have a chance to see him in action, seize the opportunity!

Qatar crumble

There was a lot of expectation and interest in Qatar coming into this tournament. After being named hosts of the 2022 World Cup and winning the 2014 Gulf Cup many questions surrounded them and some optimists even tipped them to make the semi-finals. That is why their display has been so disappointing. They depart with 0 points from three games after managing to only score 2 goals. A good 2014 Asian Cup could have been the spring board that propelled them into the consciousness of world football and may have even gone towards affirming the decision to make them World Cup hosts.  A performance like this has had the opposite effect – emphasising the doubts about their credentials to host, and compete, in the most prestigious sporting tournament in the world. If they hope to change this perception it is vital they aim for a more impressive showing at the next version of the tournament.

Unearthed gems

Sardar Azmoun and Omar Abdulrahman, the two young superstars from Group C, really highlight the unbelievable young talent that a tournament like this can unearth. Other gifted young players that have sprung into the minds of the Australian public include Hamza Al Dardour of Jordan who notched up five goals. Sardor Rashidov of Uzbekistan is another player to watch in the finals, as well as the pair of 23-year-old Emirati strikers in Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil, who have five goals between them.

The youthful Australian team is also benefitting enormously from the exposure this tournament has provided. Goalkeeper Mathew Ryan has been linked with a move to Liverpool, Massimo Luongo has excelled and is on the radar of numerous big clubs while Tomi Juric is turning down huge money in China. All this emphasises the great opportunity a tournament like this offers the vast amount of talent in Asia. A showcase of talent in a western country awash with media really gives them an amazing platform to jumpstart their careers. 

UAE need jumping practice

All three goals conceded by UAE in the tournament so far have come from dangerous balls coming into the box. Bahrain took advantage of it when Jaycee John Okwunwanne and Khalfan Ibrahim managed to get a free volley in the box to score for Qatar. Iran have excelled in set pieces this tournament and they were dangerous all game through that avenue with it turning out to be the difference between the two sides. We have heard enough about the profound attacking ability in the UAE front line but if they hope to have any chance against a Japanese team full of terrific crossers of the ball, and a great poacher in Shinji Okazaki, then they have to improve in that area or it could be their downfall.

Iran’s predicament

Carlos Queiroz has surprisingly opted for a conservative style of play, not unlike his compatriot Jose Mourinho, and it has proven effective so far in the Asian Cup. Many speculate that he was forced into this style because of a lack of preparation but, with three clean sheets and nine points it is hard to complain. An impressive defensive structure allows them to attack quickly on the counter and use their highly effective set pieces. The majority of Iran’s goals have come from free kicks or corners, highlighting the importance of Andranik Teymourian who has notched up two assists in this Asian Cup.

On the other hand, set pieces are far from the strong suit of the opposing teams in group C, so Queiroz may have been exploiting a weakness he saw. Stronger and more physical defensive sides like Australia and South Korea will be much tougher to score against through these means. In the finals Iran may have to change tactics and chase the games themselves. They definitely have the capacity to do so with players like Javad Nekounam and Andranik Teymourian controlling the midfield and attackers like Ashkan Dejagah, Sardar Azmoun and Reza Goochannejhad providing a solid attacking threat. It will be interesting to see if Queiroz sticks to his pragmatic style against stronger teams or if he changes it up and takes the game to them.