With just eight teams left in the competition, the intensity is building at the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia. Incredibly, the 24 group stage matches did not produce a single draw; setting a new record in major tournament football. Despite the lack of stalemates, there were some very tight games in the group stages but ultimately, the quarter-final line-up has produced no real surprises. So let’s take a closer look at the contenders in the first knock-out matches of the tournament.
Korea Republic (evens) v Uzbekistan (4/1)
22 Jan 2015 – Melbourne Rectangular Stadium
Korea Republic finished top of Group A thanks to a final game victory against hosts and pre-tournament favourites Australia. The win completed a hat-trick of 1-0 triumphs for Uli Stielike’s team who maintained their 100% record despite being hampered by injuries and illness during their campaign.
The Koreans will face an Uzbekistan side who were many people’s dark horses for the tournament. After a Group B defeat to China, Mirdjalal Kasimov’s team had to win their final match against three-time champions Saudi Arabia to secure a quarter-final berth. In the end, they progressed with a comfortable 3-1 score line thanks to 2 goals from Rashidov and a superb headed strike from Shodiev.
The unbeaten Koreans have big tournament pedigree and will be clear favourites for this clash. However, there is a further sub-plot to this game as Uzbekistan will be keen to exact revenge on the team that denied them a debut World Cup appearance in Brazil last summer. The heartbreak of missing out on goal difference is still lingering in the Uzbek camp and they have promised to everything they can to secure revenge. The price of 4/1 (5.0) should attract some interest.
China PR (11/2) v Australia (8/13)
22 Jan 2015 – Brisbane Stadium
After a blistering start to the tournament which included two four-goal hauls against Kuwait and Oman, Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos were brought crashing down to earth by a well-organised Korea Republic side in Brisbane. The 1-0 defeat was by no means a disaster but it may have been a timely reminder of just how tough the tournament will be in the knock out stages. The Aussie Coach has yet to settle on a best XI, preferring instead to use the full depth of his squad. Whether this tactic will reap rewards remains to be seen.
Brisbane will be the venue once again as the Aussies take on Alain Perrin’s China PR side with a semi-final place up for grabs. Team Dragon remains unbeaten in this tournament after qualifying for the quarter-final stage with a game to spare. Wins over Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and DPR Korea confirmed China’s credentials as tournament contenders and they will provide another stern test for the host nation. The early price of 11/2 (6.5) certainly looks like great value.
Iran (4/5) v Iraq (17/4)
23 Jan 2015 – Canberra Stadium
Three-time champions Iran were our pre-tournament pick and so far they have not disappointed. Carlos Queiroz’s team won all three of their group stage games without conceding a single goal. Admittedly, they left it late in their final group game against UAE when an injury time strike from Reza Ghoochannejhad confirmed their status as Group C winners. They will now face Group D runners-up and geographical neighbours Iraq in a quarter-final showdown at Canberra Stadium. It will be the 12th quarter-final appearance in 13 tournaments for Team Melli.
Iraq had a solid start to the tournament and only conceded one goal on their way to second place in Group D. That goal came in the 0-1 defeat to eventual group winners and reigning champions Japan. Despite that loss, wins over Jordan and Palestine ensured that the 2007 champions would take their place amongst the final eight. The main problem for Iraq has been their lack of cutting edge up front and that could cost them against the mean Iranian defensive line.
Japan (4/9) v UAE (9/1)
23 Jan 2015 – Stadium Australia, Sydney
Japan made it clear that they are not going to relinquish their Asian Cup crown easily with the most impressive performance of all the group stage hopefuls. A tally of three wins, seven goals scored and none conceded has propelled the Japanese into pole position as tournament favourites.
With star players such as Keisuke Honda of Milan and Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund, it is no surprise that the Samurai Blue cruised their way into the quarter-finals as Group D winners. They will now go into their game against UAE as clear favourites to secure a semi-final place.
Despite their long odds, the UAE could cause some problems for Javier Aguirre’s side. Only an injury-time winner from Iran prevented The Whites from remaining unbeaten in the group stages and they showed some real quality in their 4-1 demolition of Qatar. This should be an intriguing game in front of a large crowd at Stadium Australia on Friday night but even at the price of 9/1 (10), its hard to bet against the Japanese.