Asian Cup quarters begin on Thursday


AL-AIN — The Asian Cup quarterfinals begin Thursday.

Vietnam vs. Japan

Japan should brush Vietnam aside but the four-time champion has been so unconvincing that a defeat would not be a major surprise.

Hajime Moriyasu’s side has stumbled through the tournament, winning by a single-goal margin in each of its four games and conceding twice in its 3-2 Group F victory over Turkmenistan, ranked 127th in the world.

It allowed more than 75 percent possession to Saudi Arabia in a dire last-16 outing that was settled by Takehiro Tomiyasu’s header from a corner against the run of play.

Meanwhile Vietnam, fresh from winning the Southeast Asian title last month, beat a well-organized Jordan side on penalties and could prove a handful for the stuttering Japanese.

China vs. Iran

The end looks nigh for Marcello Lippi’s China as it runs into the tournament’s only consistently dangerous team.

Iran is Asia’s top-ranked side and has yet to concede at the tournament, rattling in nine goals in its four matches as it moved confidently into the quarters and only being stopped in a goalless Group D draw with arch rivals Iraq.

It’s the sort of form that has made it the team to avoid — which is bad luck for China, an ageing team with injury problems and few options in attack.

In its favor, however, is the acumen of Lippi, who won the World Cup for Italy in 2006 and may have a few more cards to play before his expected departure post-tournament.

South Korea vs. Qatar

Son Heung-min’s belated arrival gave South Korea a significant boost in its final group game, a 2-0 win over China, but needed extra time to beat Bahrain’s part-timers 2-1 in the first knockout round.

Injuries could prove critical for the Taeguk Warriors, who in recent days have lost Newcastle midfielder Ki Sung-yeung to a hamstring problem.

Meanwhile, 2022 World Cup host Qatar has gone from strength to strength, upsetting Saudi Arabia in the group phase thanks to a brace from the tournament’s top scorer Al-Moez Ali — who has seven goals to his name — and knocking out Iraq in the 1-0 win that took it to the quarters.

UAE vs. Australia

Defending champion Australia finished second in its group but it’s worked out well, with a favorable draw and no chance of meeting Iran until the final.

Despite only just squeezing past Uzbekistan on penalties, the Socceroos are heavy favorites to extinguish the hopes of Alberto Zaccheroni’s lifeless UAE.

The host, which is a world away from the dynamic football that lit up its appearance in the 2015 edition, has had some eccentric refereeing decisions to thank for keeping it in the tournament.

With home fans staying away in droves, Australia has even less reason to fear the fixture in Al-Ain, where it has played three of its four games so far.

VAR arrives

The technology that shook up the World Cup in Russia will be used for the first time at an Asian Cup from the quarterfinals. Decisions on whether the ball crossed the goal line, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity can all be video-reviewed before the on-field referee makes the final decision.

It could have been a very different competition if VAR had been used all along: two late penalties for UAE, and two goals in Australia’s win over Syria are among the incidents which may have faced scrutiny. It will bring an extra element of interest and, as defenders will be keenly aware, potentially more penalties. — AFP