Asian Cup: Five Things We Learnt From Group D

Keisuke Honda has Japan in cruise control in Group D, but Iraq and Jordan will contend for second spot while Palestine may still be celebrating their maiden Asian Cup goal.

1 – Japan cruise but need to improve

Japan was impressive on Monday in swatting away Palestine in the Hunter. Their second fixture wasn’t as straightforward, as fellow opening match day winners Iraq pushed the reigning champions to the brink. They won via a 23rd-minute Keisuke Honda penalty. They also had two gilt-edged chances to add to the score line.

The Japanese will contend that they did enough to secure passage to the quarter-finals but comparing the two games, Japan showed against a greater opponent that they lacked a cutting edge. Against Australia or South Korea they will need to push for that second or third goal to put some fear into them outside of the team-sheet.

 2 – Goal for all of Palestine

Rarely has a consolation goal meant so much. Palestine was down and out against a Jordan side who looked devoid of ideas only four days ago but in the 85th minute had the moment their whole Asian Cup qualification proved a success.

Jaka Hbaisha popped up to score the first goal for a Palestinian side in the tournament sending the fans occupying a whole bay of Melbourne Rectangular Stadium into rapture.

‘From the land to the sea, Palestine is free’ was the chant that echoed through the stadium well after the full-time whistle. When Hbaisha netted they were certainly free to celebrate their culture through sport.

3 – What a way to end a losing streak

It was widely reported about the losing streak that Jordan had found themselves in, including after the 1-0 defeat to Iraq in Brisbane. Their chaotic preparation which included Ahmad Hayel being left out due to his failure to produce a sample for a doping official and Ray Wilkins’ accreditation snafu didn’t augur well.

The limp team from Monday turned into the slick, fast and importantly, goal-scoring threat admittedly against the minnows of the group Palestine, but ending the losing sequence will be cathartic for the team. They can go into their final group game against Japan with their fate in their own hands after the four-goal victory.

4 – Iraq need Mahmoud to fire

There were encouraging signs for a resurgent Iraq who were dominant against their bunnies Jordan but were a shadow of Monday’s side against the much tougher Japan. Chances came few and far between, mostly accruing from side pieces meaning star forward Younis Mahmoud wasn’t able to get into the game after his duck in the opening game as well.

Mahmoud was a contentious selection for the tournament due to being without a club in 12 months despite links to Sydney FC and his aging legs counted against him. Younis needs to get his shooting boots on target if they want to progress from Group D and won’t get a better chance than against Palestine to put himself in the shop window.

5 – The final match day should guarantee goals

Group A and C have already decided who their quarter final representatives are which makes their final matches quite boring. Group D, though, still isn’t decided (although Japan appear extremely likely to progress) but there is an opening for the second-placed team to squeeze into the quarter-finals. Iraq seemingly would be in the driver’s seat as they are taking on the whipping boys of the group Palestine and will want to plunder the already eliminated nation for momentum.

Jordan, meanwhile, face the already qualified Japan who may take their foot off the pedal knowing they have first spot sewn up unless something completely crazy happened in the final game. They will need to attack the reigning champions from the opening whistle to unsettle the Blue Samurai meaning goals should accrue.