Monday, January 10, 2011

Asian Cup Win Lose and Draw

Dr. Joel Rookwood

After a disappointing opening fixture of the Asian championships, matches in Group A continued on Saturday with China taking on Kuwait. A crowd of less than seven-thousand rattled around Doha's Al Gharafa stadium, a ground with a capacity of four times that. Thanks to an interesting architectural design the view from our 'VIP' seats offered a full 40% panoramic view of the pitch. Instead we selected seats with both goals in sight, more out of hope than anticipation.

Asian Cup.


Despite the paltry crowd, at least most people present were partisan supporters. The Kuwaitis, with their rhythmic clapping and occasional chanting, were greater in number and noise than their Chinese counterparts. The Chinese were clearly excited at the prospect of supporting their country, but collectively they seemed unsure as to how their encouragement should be expressed. The chant of 'red card, red card', bellowed out a full minute after Mesad Nada had been sent off for stamping on Yang Xu, left me a little confused, albeit amused.



As with the group's opening encounter, a Middle Eastern team lacked ability where endeavour was abundant - a brave first half stalemate shattered as two second half goals were conceded to a team from further east. Kuwait and Qatar will swap opponents in the next round of matches, contests which are likely to confirm their early exit, and the progression of China and Uzbekistan into the quarter finals. Group A's final fixtures are set to determine group winners and Middle Eastern pride.



Yesterday teams from Group B kick started their campaign, fighting for the right to face Group A's top two in the next round. Three-time champions Japan took on Jordan in Doha and Saudi Arabia faced Syria in nearby Al Rayyan. With only an hour separating the matches (and a comparable driving distance), the sensible thing to do would be to pick one game to watch. Sense however has long since departed the building, and with that tickets for both matches were purchased, a forceful and creative taxi driver ensuring we saw both contests in their entirety.



An overconfident and youthful Japanese team underestimated a determined albeit limited Jordan side, who were urged on by passionate support from the stands. Jordanian apparel was gifted to supporters entering the stadium, with European-style chanting and gestures choreographed by charismatic middle-aged ringleaders throughout the contest.

Much of the sentiment was simple enough for non-Arabic speakers to understand. Even my rudimentary grasp of the language ensured translation was not required for the most part - although vocal participation was not always recommended – there is something very strange and unpleasant about seeing five-year-olds joining older family members in singing 'Hezbollah Allah Akbar' (at an international football match against a country with whom they have relatively sound diplomatic relations since 1954).



The microcosmic experience was a reminder of the legitimacy of UEFA's decision to admit Israel into Europe's football family (Israel left AFC in 1974 but did not gain full UEFA membership until 1994). With Syria, North Korea and Iran also present in the competition, potential fixtures could have read more like a UN watch list than football contests. Bitter ethno-religious rivalries are not what the competition needs - sentiment I was keen to express before watching Iraq take on Iran on Tuesday.



On the pitch the first half looked set to remain goalless until an Abdel Fattah strike moments before the interval gave the contest a very different complexion. The Japanese side appeared destined to fail in their bid to break Jordan's resolve. However a first draw of the competition was confirmed as Maya Yoshida struck in second half stoppage time. The goal gave Japan an ill-deserved share of the spoils, leaving the Jordanians to dream of what might have been.

An hour later Syria kicked off against Saudi Arabia, in what was certainly the most volatile contest of the competition to date. Hoards of soldiers were on patrol outside the stadium, serving as a stark contrast to the three previous fixtures and an ominous statement about what the game could become.


The football proved similarly explosive, with the Syrians taking the lead in both periods of the game through strikes from Al-Hussein, the second of which earned them victory. With refreshing honesty, Syria coach Valeriu Tita admitted after the match, "Frankly I did not expect to win."

The Saudis and Jordanians, who would have been left disappointed following their respective opening contests will be pitted each other next, with Syria's group leadership to be tested by the Japanese. With Group B hanging in the balance, quarter final qualification is unlikely to be confirmed before the final round of matches.

© Dr. Joel Rookwood & Soccerphile.com

Find the latest Asian Cup odds at Bet 365, which has LIVE STREAMING of the Asian Cup matches.

Japan are 7/2 favorites, followed by South Korea and Australia at 9/2, Saudi 15/2 and Iran 8/1.


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