THE Asian Cup has reached the quarter-final stage. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) is on the hunt for more winners.
South Korea v Uzbekistan | 07.30 Thursday
We’ve reached the business end of the Asian Cup and what a quarter-final card the competition has thrown up. All four ties have a number of fascinating subplots and if you’ve not watched a minute of the competition yet, now is the time to tune in.
Uzbekistan take on South Korea in the first of those fixtures with the Uzbeks out for revenge. The White Wolves saw their bid to qualify for their first ever World Cup thwarted by the Koreans in 2013. Having been in pole position, Uzbekistan were beaten in their penultimate qualifier in Seoul and ended up losing out on goal difference to the Taegeuk Warriors.
White Wolves coach Mirjalol Kasimov has boldly promised that his side will beat South Korea in their quarter-final showdown in Melbourne and the 2011 semi-finalists know the Koreans are there for the taking.
South Korea haven’t won the Asian Cup since 1960 and haven’t even made the final since 1988. It’s an awful record for a nation with a proud footballing history. And looking back through recent Asian Cup quarter-finals doesn’t make good reading for the Taegeuk Warriors either.
Since the tournament introduced a quarter-final stage in 1996, Korea have recorded three draws and two defeats in 90 minutes. In their last two appearances at this stage, they failed to even score a goal in normal time.
Uli Stielike's side progressed from Group A with three 1-0 victories and are undoubted favourites for the contest. But it’s worth noting that goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon had to be at his best to deny an understrength Australian side in their final pool fixture.
Whilst feeling Korea have enough in the tank to step up to the next level, their performances have been unconvincing, devoid of tempo and at times, appearing unstructured. But they’ll take heart from their defensive shape and organisation.
Uzbekistan have flattered to deceive at times themselves. Although I’m going to put my faith in them getting something out of this match. BetVictor have made the White Wolves a 42/41 shot with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start and I’ll begrudgingly take that as my bet.
As coach Kasimov says, the Uzbeks will be hugely motivated for this showdown. And as well as their tendency to trip up in the knockout stages of this competition, Korea have the weight and pressure of a nation on their shoulders back home.
China v Australia | Thursday 10.30
Australia’s 1-0 defeat South Korea attracted plenty of attention on Ange Postecoglou’s side from local and global media. The Socceroos chose to rest a number of stars having already booked their place in the quarter-finals. Attacking trio Tim Cahill, Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse all started on the bench and the tournament hosts paid the price, creating but missing a whole host of chances that came their way.
Defeat also meant supporters were quick to point out that the Roos would miss out on a potential semi-final in Sydney on Australia Day. Maybe, just maybe, they’re getting a little too ahead of themselves Down Under.
Cahill, Leckie and Kruse will all slot straight back in for Thursday’s meeting with China whilst captain Mile Jedinak is also set for a return from injury in what’s expected to be a sell-out crowd in Brisbane. However, the pitch has attracted plenty of attention since the competition began.
Australia enjoy a possession-based game and the surface at Suncorp Stadium has been condemned for playing havoc with the Roos style. They must also overcome their own Chinese demons in Brisbane; the Socceroos have lost their last two encounters with China.
The red-hot Team Dragon secured top spot in Group B with three wins from three, the first time they’ve qualified with a 100% record from their pool. Under the guidance of Alain Perrin, China have been the surprise package of the tournament playing some beautiful football and combining it with an energetic, in-your-face attitude to defence.
Sun Ke looms as the biggest threat to the hosts. He’s grabbed three goals in two games now and I’m bullish about China’s prospects of getting on the scoresheet. Skipper Zheng Zhi will have a crucial role to play in midfield, should he overcome his back problem and it’s perhaps his availability that makes my best bet a real runner.
Should Zhi be fit and available I’ll be diving straight in on William Hill’s 13/8 on Both Teams To Score. It’s far too big, in my opinion. China have thrown together some fantastic pieces of attacking interplay to cut Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and North Korea and whilst this is a step up in class, they should hold no fears about getting space and opportunities.
Australia have kept just four clean sheets in 20 games and those came against the lesser lights of Oman, Canada, Costa Rica and UAE. They’ve never looked stable at the back and there’s also a strong trend of Asian Cup quarter-final games featuring Both Teams To Score.
The past five Asian Cups have seen at least two of the four quarter-final matches produce winners in the BTTS column in all bar one tournament. And this looks the most likely of the 2015 competition’s last eight fixtures to follow that trend.
South Korea v Uzbekistan – Uzbekistan +0.50 Asian Handicap (42/41 BetVictor)
China v Australia – Both Teams To Score (13/8 William Hill)