AFC Asian Cup: Time to Know Asia’s Best 4!

AFC Asian Cup Quarterfinals

It’s do or die now, and there’s no room for mistake as the final eight teams—some expected and some surprised—vie for a ticket to the semi-finals of the AFC Asian Cup.

Unsurprisingly, World Cup 2018 teams Iran, South Korea, Japan and Australia are the heavy favourites to make it to the next round. Experience counts for something, and there’s nothing better than playing on the biggest stage, against the best teams in the world.

However, make no mistake, the quadrennial affair has seen its fair share of upsets over the years. In fact, in the 2015 instalment, the United Arab Emirates stunned Japan on penalties after playing out a 1-1 stalemate.

UAE is back in the competition again, and this time as hosts. Meanwhile, Vietnam, China and Qatar are also in the last eight and will be hoping to exceed expectations when they step on the pitch.

Vietnam vs Japan (January 24, 21:00 GMT+8)

Japan have been on a tear since their impressive World Cup performance that saw them make it to the Round of 16 and almost upset eventual third-placers Belgium. They haven’t lost in their nine games after that and are currently riding a four-game winning run in the Asian Cup.

While they seem unstoppable, however, their recent display against Saudi Arabia raised some concerns. They were not that convincing in the game and barely won against a Saudi team that showed real attacking intent.

Vietnam, Southeast Asian champions who dominated the AFF Champion last month, will probably smell blood after seeing Japan struggle.

The Golden Dragons, led by South Korean manager Park Hang-seo, are brimming with confidence right now after taking down Yemen and Jordan in back-to-back games.

Betting Tip: Vietnam Asian Handicap +1.25 @ 2.12.

China PR vs Iran (January 25, 00:00 GMT+8)

China are in a quest to win their first Asian title, and they have shown they are determined to end their championship drought.

While losing to South Korea in the final group stage game blemished their title credentials, they made sure to bounce back big time with a come-from-behind victory over Thailand to seal a spot in the quarters.

China's head coach Marcello Lippi looks on during the AFC Asian Cup

China’s head coach Marcello Lippi applauding their win against Thailand in the AFC Asian Cup

Team Dragon scored two second-half goals in quick succession after trailing Thailand by one in the first half. The team remain composed and were rightly rewarded with the win.

Nonetheless, Iran may be China’s biggest challenge yet—bigger than South Korea. The AFC Asian Cup 2019 odds at us have Team Melli winning it all this time around, and it’s worth noting that the Iranians have young striker and so-called ‘Iranian Messi’ Sardar Azmoun leading their frontline.

Iran played out a goalless draw with Iraq last week, but that was merely a blip to what has been an impressive campaign for them. They already have nine goals in the competition and are yet to concede a goal.

Betting Tip: Iran Correct Score 1-2 @ 10.50.

Korea Republic vs Qatar (January 25, 21:00 GMT+8)

Perhaps the biggest crowd drawer of the tournament, South Korea—led by Premier League star Son Heung-min—continue their chase for a third Asian Cup title and first in the 21st century.

Still undefeated with four wins out of four, the Taegeuk Warriors are one of the top contenders in the tournament. They had a rough start to their campaign, but they have since found their stride after the arrival of Son from Tottenham.

Qatar, just like Bahrain who was beaten earlier by South Korea, are outsiders and aren’t expected to put up much of a challenge. But they have been one of the biggest surprises at UAE, and it might be wrong to write them off completely.

The Maroons are coming off a 1-0 victory against a strong and heavily favoured Iraq team. They are also the best scoring team in the competition with 11 goals so far.

Not to mention that they won their last meeting with South Korea—a 3-2 win in the World Cup qualifications back in 2017.

Betting Tip: Goals Over 2.25 @ 2.02.

United Arab Emirates vs Australia (January 26, 00:00 GMT+8)

The UAE are enjoying playing at home, as proven by their unbeaten record. Although they have been underwhelming with two wins and two draws, they did enough to make it to this stage.

Unfortunately for them, they have to take things up a notch against the reigning champions, Australia. The Socceroos, though seemingly weaker than their 2015 team, have already two games with three goals.

Australia midfielder Tom Rogic on the field for AFC Asian Cup

Australia midfielder Tom Rogic in action with Syria’s Khaled Al Mbayed during the AFC Asian Cup match at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium

Australia went into penalties against Uzbekistan the last time out, and holding them to another goalless draw might be the only way for UAE to beat them.

The Australians have plenty of creativity in the midfield with Celtic’s Tom Rogic and Perth Glory’s Chris Ikonomidis anchoring it, and they do not lack on the offensive end with Jamie MacLaren, Mathew Leckie and Awer Mabil present.

Betting Tip: Australia 1X2 @ 1.94.

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

 

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A Dubai Classic: Korea Edge Bahrain in Gripping Asian Cup Battle

Korea Republic 2-1 (AET) Bahrain

It was a beautiful afternoon at the Al Rashid Stadium when Korea Republic met Bahrain for the chance to make the Asian Cup 2019 quarter-finals. The Asian Red Devils were heavy favourites to crush a fledgeling Bahrain side that was supposedly out to punch the moon.

However, this game turned out to be quite a battle for the Taeguk Warriors as the Al Ahmar took them to their absolute limits. The sun may have set on Bahrain’s Asian Cup dreams, but the quality of Asian Cup 2019 highlights they provided us will stick for a good while.

Highlights of the game

There is much pressure on the Al-Ahmar to fend off a strong Korean attack in order to keep their hopes of making the quarter-final alive. They saw how Son Heung-Min overwhelmed China, so Miroslav Soukoup chose to clog the middle in order to cushion the Tottenham star’s breakthrough power.

Bahrain started well after making two shot attempts within the first 15 minutes, but Mohamed Marhoon and Sayed Isa fluffed their chances. It’s actually the Koreans who are dictating the pact of the game: the few times Bahrain have actually succeeded in breaking past the Koreans were on the break.

Twenty minutes have passed, and Korea still haven’t broken through the resolute Bahrain line. They have started threading in crosses from the wings, but the Al-Ahmar were able to fend them off by clogging the lanes and roughhousing the Koreans. In fact, Ali Madan got a yellow card for kicking Son Heung-Min in the face during a challenge for the football.

Korea finally broke through in the 32nd minute. Son Heung-Min was left without a marker and immediately rocketed towards the goal. The stellar Tottenham attacker fired a pass towards Hwang Eui-Jo, but Sayed Shubbar managed to get to the ball before the 26-year-old striker completed any moves.

Bahrain almost completed a brilliant move for the opener when they managed to get to a quick counter on 42 minutes. However, Mohamed Al Rohaimi was caught offside. It was after this moment that the Koreans managed to end the first half with a fantastic goal.

Bahrain failed to keep their Asian Cup dreams alive against South Korea

Bahrain’s Mohamed Al Rohaimi and Jamal Rashed react after the match

Lee Yong was freed from the right and fired a quick corner. Hwang Eui-Jo and Shubbar battled for the ball, and the Bahrain backline managed to push the ball away. Unfortunately for their resolute defence, it landed in front of Hwang Hee-Chan. The Hamburger SV man wasted no time and fired a low-driven shot to an open goal for the opening goal and the first-half closer.

The second half picked up where the game left off, and Korea noticeably had more space to operate as both Soukoup and Paulo Bento made their adjustments. The Taeguk Warriors dominated had control of the football during the early minutes of the reset.

However, the Al-Ahmar began looking organised as they start putting together runs towards Korea’s final third from the 55th minute onwards. The men in red mostly managed to dispossess their opponents before they found their equaliser, though.

While their efforts weren’t producing any results, it was obvious that their persistence was starting to pay off. The Koreans were starting to lose their grip on the match as Bahrain continue to push hard for the result.

It finally paid dividends when they managed an equaliser on 77 minutes. A brilliant pass saw the ball end up with Mahdi Al-Humaidan, who immediately fired a bullet towards goal. Kim Seung-Gyu managed to push the ball, but Al Rohaimi was there to collect the rebound and pound it to the net.

The last minutes of regulation saw Korea try to poach another goal from a Bahrain team that’s determined to get to extra time. Forwards Ji Dong-Won and Ju Se-Jong were brought in, but they weren’t just enough time to for them to snatch a goal in regulation.

Korea started extra time in attack mode, trying to snatch an early goal. However, Bahrain were just defending with their lives. Moreover, Shubbar couldn’t carry on, and Abdulkarim Fardan had to step in.

They eventually got back on top on the dying embers of the extra time’s first half: Lee Yong rushed the right and launched a cross to the far post. Kim Jin-Su, who came in at the 96th minute, headed the ball in. The Korean delegation at the stadium erupted in cheers.

The winner took a huge burden off Korean’s shoulders as they finished the game as clinical as they could be. The Al-Ahmar admirably did everything they could to defy the Korea Republic vs Bahrain betting tips, but they just fell short of the mark.

Key statistics

Korea completely overwhelmed their opponents. They had total control of the football during the first half, holding the ball for 70% of the 120-minute classic. Bahrain managed to fight back a bit in the second half and extra time, but they weren’t able to peel the ball off the Koreans for extended periods of time.

However, Bahrain slightly edged them in goal attempts. Bahrain had 17 shot attempts with four of those threatening the Korean goalmouth. Their aggressive tactics resulted in quite a high disciplinary record as well: they got 18 fouls and two yellow cards for their rough-housing.

What’s next?

Son Heung-min is still a threat as South Korea reach Asian Cup last eight

South Korea’s Son Heung-Min and Hwang Hee-Chan celebrate their team’s second goal

Many of the fans watching the us Asian Cup 2019 markets will definitely provide Korea with great odds throughout their run in the tournament. The Taeguk Warriors will be playing Qatar/Iraq in the quarter-finals, and nobody is expecting them to drop points now.

However, Bahrain have shown their Middle Eastern neighbours that hard work, determination, and a bit of luck can rattle even the toughest of sides.

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Siewert: Terriers can survive

New Huddersfield Town head coach Jan Siewert is confident he can keep the club in the Premier League this season.

The 36-year-old German was appointed on a two-and-a-half-year contract as David Wagner's successor on Monday.

After their 3-0 home defeat to Manchester City on Sunday, Huddersfield are bottom of the Premier League pile, ten points shy of safety.

He will have just 15 games in which to save them from the drop but Siewert insists he only accepted the job because he believes it can be done.

"Without being confident I wouldn't sit here," he said. "I think we have to work hard and do our very best and prepare for everything.

"We have 15 more games and my only focus at the moment is the task I have to do with the team and I will give everything to those games."

Siewert, who becomes the Premier League's youngest manager, has been on Huddersfield's radar for some two years while working with the Borussia Dortmund U23 side.

Predecessor Wagner held the same role at Dortmund from 2011 to 2015 before joining Huddersfield and leading them into the big-time, where they survived last season against the odds.

The new boss says he is a different person to Wagner.

"I always did it my way so I can't be compared to David Wagner because he's a fantastic manager and had so much success here," he added.

"But now it's my role here. It's a new chapter and the most important thing is that I'm used to working with professional players, at Dortmund I had some great opportunities and now I'd like to challenge myself.

"Of course there are similarities, but the most important thing is I'm Jan Siewert and I have to do it my way as David did it his way. We should not compare us two because that's not possible."

Huddersfield are 1/33 to be relegated this season. They host Everton in their next game and are 3/1 to win. The Toffees are 10/11, while the draw is 12/5.

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Gerrard rules out Morelos move

Rangers boss Steven Gerrard has insisted that striker Alfredo Morelos will not be leaving the club during this transfer window.

The Ibrox boss says 'every player' in his squad has a price, and while he's not ruling that Morelos could be sold in the summer, the club's leading scorer won't be moving on in the coming days.

Ligue 1 outfit Nice, currently managed by Patrick Vieira, are reportedly weighing up an £8m approach for the Colombian forward.

Morelos joined Rangers in the summer of 2017 from Finnish outfit HJK Helsinki for a fee in the region of £1m. He has notched a dozen goals in 19 Scottish Premiership appearances this season, propelling Gerrard's side into a closely-fought title race with Celtic in doing so.

Rangers drew level on points with the champions when they defeated Brendan Rodgers' men at Ibrox before New Year, though the Bhoys have played a game less.

Gerrard's team return to competitive action on Wednesday evening when they go to Rugby Park to take on third placed Kilmarnock and their manager says nobody will be leaving during this window.

"There's been nothing concrete [from Nice]," said Gerrard.

"At the moment in this window, Alfredo won't be going anywhere. But every one of our players has got a price, I'm not naive enough to sit here and say they haven't.

"But none of my players will be going out the door, certainly in this window, so anyone who is preparing a bid or thinking of a bid will be wasting their time."

Rangers are 8/13 to win at Kilmarnock on Wednesday. Steve Clarke's side, one point behind their visitors, are 17/4 while the draw is 3/1.

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Hasenhuttl prunes his squad

Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl has allowed Netherlands international Wesley Hoedt to join Celta Vigo on loan until the end of the season.

The La Liga side have the option to buy the central defender, who has made 13 appearances for Saints this season, in the summer.

Hoedt signed a five-year deal when he moved to St Mary's from Lazio in 2017 in a deal worth £15million.

Steven Davis and Manolo Gabbiadini have also left Southampton this month as Hasenhuttl revamps his squad.

The Austrian has guided Saints to back-to-back Premier League wins against Leicester City and Everton and is keen to maintain the winning habit when his team come up against Crystal Palace, Cardiff City and Burnley in their next three fixtures.

He said: "It's now a little bit of time to be happy about the two wins in a row and then stay hungry and go for the next. I know the players have the willingness to learn.

"I am very happy for them that they see with this kind of playing football and hard-working training sessions they get better every day.

"It's fantastic for them and fantastic for me as a manager."

Southampton can be backed at 1/40 not to be relegated this season while they are 13/10 to beat Crystal Palace in their next Premier League fixture on 30th January.

Bellerin’s worst fears realised

Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin could miss the start of next season after scans confirmed he has ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament.

The defender, who was carried off on a stretcher in the 72nd minute of the Gunners' 2-0 win against Chelsea on Saturday, is expected to be out for between six and nine months.

However, Unai Emery is not expected to sign a new right-back this month even though Bellerin has suffered a similar injury to team-mate Rob Holding.

Either Ainsley Maitland-Niles or Stephan Lichtsteiner are expected to deputise for Bellerin in the right-back or wing-back position.

In addition, Emery may decide to keep Carl Jenkinson, who had been linked with a transfer this month, until the summer.

Bellerin had been making his first start on Saturday since 16th December because of a calf problem. However, he fell to the pitch with nobody around him in the closing stage at Emirates Stadium.

Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey's transfer to Juventus is expected to be confirmed this week.

Emery said of the 28-year-old Wales international, who will move to Turin in the summer: "We spoke about the circumstance with Ramsey three months ago and now the decision is finished for him and for the club.

"Yes, of course, his future is very important for his family but it is also very important for him to be OK to play for us like he did against Chelsea. I am very happy with him because in the last month his focus has been very clear."

Arsenal, 7/2 to finish in the top four of the Premier League this season, are 14/1 to beat Manchester United 2-0 in the FA Cup on Friday.

Fitter Phoenix flying for Rudan

Improving Wellington Phoenix's fitness has helped bring about a change in fortunes, according to coach Mark Rudan.

The Phoenix look to be certainties to make the top six this season, having gone unbeaten in their last nine games.

Though they've only made the Finals Series just once in the past six seasons, and finished next to bottom last term, they have put together a run that establishes them as contenders for silverware.

Wellington are just a point behind fourth-placed Melbourne City following the 3-3 draw against defending champions Melbourne Victory on Sunday.

Rudan, who was appointed last May, admitted there was plenty of work for him to do to turn their fortunes around.

"Physically we needed to improve from where we were last year and I'm a big believer in making sure that throughout the course of the season, particularly with the amount of travel we have to endure, that we're able to get through those moments and recover quicker," he said.

"When you are fitter you recover quicker as well and we worked a lot on not just the physical side of things but tactical, technical and mental was another big one as well."

Rudan said he'd set out to change the mindset and the mentality of the playing group and the club were now starting to see some of the rewards from that.

He didn't have success right from the start of the season, with the Phoenix losing three of their first five matches.

The coach regarded those defeats as "growing pains", but indicated he'd looked to speed up the team's development at that time.

The Phoenix have shown they can live with the pace-setters this season, with none of the top three having beaten them so far.

Rudan said: "We've beaten Sydney, we led against Perth and against Victory as well and we gave them a tough time, we could have easily won both of those games as well."

Wellington are 10/1 to win the Grand Final.

The Phoenix are 9/5 to win their next game against Sydney FC, who are 6/4 with the draw 12/5.

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Muscat thumbs-up for ‘relentless’ Victory

Coach Kevin Muscat says Melbourne Victory gave him the response he was looking for in the second half, as they came back to earn a 3-3 draw against Wellington Phoenix.

The defending champions trailed 3-1 after less than half an hour against the resurgent New Zealanders.

But they reduced the gap through James Troisi and secured a point when Kosta Barbarouses struck against his former club with two minutes left.

Muscat, who had seen his team grab an early lead when Ola Toivonen netted, wants Victory to use their second-half display as a benchmark for the rest of the season.

The draw means they trail leaders Perth Glory by three points.

Muscat said the way his team had played after the break was how he wanted them to continue now, with the Big Blue clash coming up on Saturday against last season's premiers Sydney FC.

"Considering how we came in at half time, it was an enormous effort how we played some really good football and earned a very good result," said the coach.

"We were relentless in asking questions and putting Wellington under pressure in that second half, we made some tactical changes that I thought really opened the game up for us, so on the night very pleased with the football we played."

Muscat was pleased that, after Barbarouses levelled, Victory were the team driving forward in search of a last-gasp winner.

"In the end there was only going to be one winner. We were pushing forward to score that last goal," he said.

Melbourne Victory are 11/4 to win the Grand Final. The Victory are 5/2 to win the minor premiership.

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Penalty saves the ‘pinnacle’ for Ryan

Mat Ryan was able to emulate his hero Mark Schwarzer by making sure Australia could reach the last eight of the Asian Cup.

The Brighton and Hove Albion keeper stopped two penalties in their 4-2 shootout victory in the round of 16 over Uzbekistan.

The Socceroos, who will now face hosts United Arab Emirates in the quarter-finals, were held to a goalless draw by Uzbekistan in Al Ain and extra time couldn't split the teams.

So it went to penalties, and ultimately Ryan's saves and Mathew Leckie's decisive spot-kick kept Australia's defence of the trophy alive.

It brought back memories of Schwarzer's epic 2005 showing against Uruguay which ensured the Socceroos would end a 32-year wait for a World Cup finals appearance.

Ryan said he had been in the crowd in that match in Sydney, adding: "Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would be out here representing Australia, having been a young fan that night.

"Recently I got 50 caps to my name and for that tonight now…I hadn't saved a penalty for the national team, it was something that was bugging me. To get two in that moment just there, I'm really happy and for a goalkeeper that's the pinnacle."

Ryan parried Islom Tukhtakhujaev's strike down the middle and then picked the right way to foil Marat Bikmaev.

His saves tipped the balance back into Australia's favour after Uzbek keeper Ignatiy Nesterov had kept out Aziz Behich's spot-kick.

Ryan admitted he'd done his homework on the opposition to prepare for what he might face if the match went to penalties.

"In this day and age you're always trying to have a look before the game to see if you can gain some kind of advantage," said the keeper.

"You have to have a bit of luck at the end of the day with the side you choose to go or whether you stay in the middle – thankfully twice tonight [the decisions] paid off."

Australia are 7/1 to win the Asian Cup final. The Socceroos are 3/1 to reach the final.

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Cole relishing new challenge

Ashley Cole is looking forward to helping his former England team-mate Frank Lampard in his quest to guide Derby County to promotion.

The 38-year-old has played for Roma and LA Galaxy since leaving Chelsea in the summer of 2014.

He won 10 trophies during his eight-year spell at Stamford Bridge having previously starred for Arsenal.

Cole represented England 107 times between 2001 and 2014 and is keen to work with Lampard again.

"It's going to be a challenge," he said. "I've not played in England for five years now, so coming from the MLS in America and a different culture, different way of way of playing and philosophies then coming here where it's cold, it rains, difficult conditions and strong players in a good, tough league.

"I'm again coming out of my comfort zone when I could have stayed in the MLS and relaxed. I wanted to come here and fight for something, fight for a good cause and make promotion. I think that would be great for the club and for Frank Lampard and me as well.

"I had a conversation with Frank a month, maybe two months ago. It was a no-brainer to come here and get involved in this great environment and hopefully push for promotion."

Derby are 7/2 to be promoted this season and 6/4 to win their next Championship match against Preston at Deepdale on 1st February.