Babbel blasts U23 call-ups

Western Sydney Wanderers are unhappy at losing three of their players to international duty later this month.

Wanderers have had midfielder Keanu Baccus, attacker Abraham Majok and defender Tass Mourdoukoutas called up by the Australian U23 team.

The trio will miss one round of the A-League season to play in the AFC U23 Championship qualifiers.

They have been included in a 24-man squad by coach Graham Arnold for a week-long camp in Kuala Lumpur, where they will play three friendlies.

The squad will then go to the qualifiers in Phnom Penh, where they will face Cambodia, Chinese Taipei and Korea Republic over five days starting on 22nd March.

Melbourne City have also had three of their players called up by Arnold – they will lose Lachlan Wales, Nathaniel Atkinson and Riley McGree for one game.

Wanderers coach Markus Babbel said: "Three of our players who are playing at the moment are leaving us.

"It's very, very hard to accept this because we are a club who want to bring through young players. But we lose these players because they are playing for the national team, so it makes no sense for me."

Also in the squad is Newcastle Jets defender John Koutroumbis, who has returned to action after undergoing surgery following a diagnosis of stage one thyroid cancer.

Meanwhile, Brisbane Roar have signed forward Eli Babalj as an injury replacement player for the rest of the season.

The 27-year-old has been training with the club and could be involved in Friday's clash with Western Sydney.

The Roar are 13/10 to win their game against Wanderers, who are 13/10, with the draw 13/5.

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Degenek: I ended our dreams

Defender Milos Degenek held his hands up after an error that cost Australia defeat to UAE in the Asian Cup quarter-finals.

It was the Red Star Belgrade player's back pass that resulted in the only goal of the game in Al Ain, with the hosts scoring through Ali Mabkhout in the second half.

It meant the Socceroos defence of the trophy is over, with UAE going through to meet Qatar in the semi-finals.

Degenek said: "Obviously we didn't go through tonight because of my mistake. I let the team down, let the boys down, let our country down.

"I feel bad for the boys because I ended our dreams. I made the mistake that shattered all our dreams, and not just ours but our country's but we didn't deserve it tonight I think."

The 24-year-old was in tears in the dressing room after the game, according to coach Graham Arnold.

But he didn't shy away from the cameras, as he owned up to the calamitous back pass which was intercepted by Mabkhout for his fourth goal of the tournament.

"I don't feel bad for myself as much as I do for the boys because the boys did not deserve to end the tournament that way tonight," said Degenek.

"I can live with myself and this mistake it's something I'll have to deal with but can't blame anyone else obviously."

The Socceroos exited the tournament at the same stage that Graham Arnold's men were infamously dumped from the Asian Cup in 2007.

Hull City's Jackson Irvine said he'd told Degenek after the game to get on his feet and keep his head up.

Irvine added: "He's been one of our most promising players, he's got a huge career ahead of him and, while I haven't seen the incident, I think he's too honest for his own good."

Iran are now 13/10 to win the Asian Cup, with their last-four opponents Japan priced at 12/5 and tournament hosts the UAE 6/1.

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Australia knocked out of Asian Cup

Australia's defence of the Asian Cup came to an end when they lost 1-0 to UAE in Al Ain, with a gift of a goal.

Ali Mabkhout scored the only goal of the quarter-final at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium midway through the second half, seizing on a poor backpass from Milos Degenek.

He was able to skip around keeper Mat Ryan and fire into an empty net to send the hosts through to a semi-final clash with Qatar.

Degenek gave Ryan, who had been the hero of the Round of 16 victory against Uzbekistan with a pair of penalty saves, no chance to prevent the winning goal.

It was Mabkhout's fourth goal of the tournament, putting him joint-second on the scoring table.

Australia had more shots and more possession than the hosts but weren't able to capitalise.

Trent Sainsbury flashed an early header over the bar before Ryan was called into action, palming away Ismail Al Hamadi's effort following a rapid breakaway.

The Socceroos almost broke the deadlock when Jamie Maclaren had a goal-bound header cleared off the line by defender Fares Juma, with Apostolos Giannou then seeing a shot from from distance tipped away by keeper Khalid Eisa.

Mabkhout headed over from close range just before the break, after being left unmarked by the Socceroos defence.

Graham Arnold's side continued to threaten in the second half, with Hull City's Jackson Irvine heading narrowly wide before Apostolos Giannou had an effort ruled out for offside.

After Mabkhout netted for the hosts Australia had chances to get back on terms but Mathew Leckie headed over from a corner and Awer Mabil fired wide from the final chance of the game.

UAE are 6/1 to win the Asian Cup, with Iran 13/10 ahead of a quarter-final with Japan – currently 12/5 to lift the trophy.

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Giannou in frame for Socceroos start

Striker Apostolos Giannou is set for his first start at the Asian Cup when Australia take on hosts the United Arab Emirates.

The Socceroos are without Tom Rogic through suspension for the quarter-final.

Coach Graham Arnold has flagged a possible tactical change since the penalty shootout victory against Uzbekistan in the Round of 16.

Giannou believes if he plays with two strikers it could bring the best out of himself and the team.

"I prefer to be the second striker in a game rather than the one who sits up there and waits but either way I'm happy … if I'm playing, I'm happy," he said. "It helps (with) attacking, as well – the more numbers you have up front, it's not that easy for the others to predict what you're going to do."

The Socceroos have used a 4-3-3- formation so far in the tournament but have struggled to dictate terms.

"It could surprise the other teams – maybe they think we'll play a certain way and we'll play a different way," said Giannou.

"That's up to the coaching team and coaches to find the way; we're just there to execute what they tell us."

Having only come into the squad as an injury replacement player when Martin Boyle was ruled out, Giannou has been a solid contributor off the bench in all four matches so far.

The 28-year-old was on target in the win over Palestine in the group stages and netted Australia's third penalty as they saw off Uzbekistan to make it to the last eight.

He's now in the frame to partner Jamie Maclaren in the front line, while the other options include a fit-again Mathew Leckie, who made a successful return from a hamstring injury in the Round of 16.

Australia are 19/20 to win their next game against the United Arab Emirates, who are 7/2 with the draw 21/10.

The Socceroos are 5/2 to reach the final.

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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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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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Socceroos through after shootout

Australia went through in unconvincing fashion to the Asian Cup quarter-finals, with a penalty shootout win against Uzbekistan.

The Socceroos won 4-2 on penalties in Al Ain after the previous 120 minutes had failed to produce a goal.

There was a shortage of attacking intent shown by both sides, which will leave Australia concerned ahead of their quarter-final clash with the United Arab Emirates.

Graham Arnold's team will need to improve against tournament the hosts, who edged past Kyrgyzstan 3-2 thanks to a penalty in extra time.

And they'll be without Tom Rogic at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, after he picked up a second yellow card during the tournament.

Arnold will have Hull City's Jackson Irvine in his mind for an attacking midfield role in the quarter-final, and could consider further changes to his starting side.

Chris Ikonomidis failed to fire up front for the Socceroos, with several poor touches in the final third, and a number of players were below their best.

The star of the victory was keeper Mat Ryan, who produced a pair of wonderful penalty shootout saves, first down the middle and then to his right.

Mathew Leckie then held his nerve to bury his penalty and send Australia through to the last eight.

Speaking of Ryan, Arnold said: "That is why he is in the Premier League…the two saves in the shootout showed what a top goalkeeper he is. He does a lot of homework, when he goes into a game he ticks all the boxes."

Ryan rescued Australia in the 10th minute when he denied Eldor Shomurodov from a one-on-one opportunity, and that proved to be just about the best chance of the match.

Leckie, sent on for Awer Mabil, teed up Rogic for a strike midway through the second half.

Regulation time produced few decent chances, though the Uzbeks were fortunate not to have to go through extra time with only ten men after Davronbek Khashimov avoided being shown a second yellow late in the game after fouling Ikonomidis.

The Socceroos pushed forward in extra time but were ultimately unable to fashion anything more than half-chances.

Uzbekistan ran out the game strongly with a flurry of late substitutions, but they too could not create anything meaningful going forward.

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

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Mabil says thanks to coach Arnold

Australia forward Awer Mabil dedicated his vital goal against Syria to coach Graham Arnold, after the 3-2 win that put the Socceroos into Asian Cup round of 16.

The FC Midtjylland striker fired in a superb curling effort from outside the box to give Arnold's side the lead in Al Ain.

It was his fourth in his first seven internationals, and he says he feels thrilled to be a part of an exciting squad under Arnold.

Speaking of his goal, Mabil said: "It was really nice, it means a lot. [Arnold] has given me a chance to help my country and it's a chance I'll always be thankful for."

The 23-year-old said he had dedicated his first Socceroos goal, in the friendly win over Kuwait in October, to the coach and was happy to be able to do so again on the big stage.

He raced over to the bench to celebrate with Arnold and the coaching staff after netting late in the first half.

"Today it was good to get an official goal and dedicate it to him to say thank you for the opportunity," he added. "There's always a pride to represent my country, and also be part of this group.

"The philosophy suits everybody and brings out the best in everybody. You can see in the last two games that we're carrying a good momentum; we still have a lot to give."

Mabil hadn't represented the Socceroos until Arnold took over as coach following last year's World Cup.

The former Adelaide United player got on the scoresheet on his debut against Kuwait after coming on as a substitute in the 4-0 victory, and now has three goals in the last four games.

Meanwhile, Adelaide United are 14/1 to win the A-League Grand Final.

The Reds are 13/10 to win their next game against Western Sydney, who are 19/10 with the draw 5/2.

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Rudan highlights first-half failings

Coach Mark Rudan wasn't glossing over the ugly side of Wellington Phoenix's 3-2 win over Central Coast at Westpac Stadium.

The Phoenix were able to mark club captain Andrew Durante's 300th A-League appearance in front of their biggest crowd of the season.

They also made it a club record eight consecutive games unbeaten, cementing their place in the top six.

Rudan's side now have a 10-point cushion inside the Finals Series places, but the coach admitted he'd had to give his players a rocket in the dressing room at half-time after they conceded twice.

The Mariners, who have now picked up just two points from their first 12 games, scored through a Matt Simon penalty and an Andrew Hoole goal.

That Wellington managed to get out of jail and pick up the three points was down in large part to Kye Rowles' sending-off just after the interval.

Rowles conceded a penalty which Roy Krishna converted, and another spot-kick from the Fiji international levelled the scores before David Williams netted the winner.

Rudan said his team had started poorly, which had surprised him.

"That was a constant theme over the past couple of days, we've spoken about how well they've started in the past five or six games, when they've taken it to teams who have got an early lead or they've really put pressure on teams, so we needed to match up in that regard, especially in terms of intensity," he said.

"I was extremely disappointed, especially giving away another goal from set-piece. We pride ourselves on defence and we gave away two against the Wanderers, which was the first time we've conceded from a set-piece or a corner and we did it again."

Durante's defensive colleague Steven Taylor came in for criticism for fouling Simon to give away the penalty.

Rudan said: "I expected more from Steven and that's the first thing I said to him after the game; 'someone of your experience, you need to pick yourself up ASAP.' It's OK when things are going well but that was the moment when I was looking at him closely and I expect more from him."

Meanwhile, Australia are 12/1 to win the Asian Cup, with South Korea 16/5 and Japan 4/1.

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Maclaren delight at first Australia goal

Jamie Maclaren was happy to get off the mark for Australia, in their 3-0 Asian Cup victory against Palestine.

The Hibernian frontman broke his duck in his 10th appearance for the Socceroos, netting with a header from Tom Rogic's cross.

His goal on 18 minutes in Dubai gave Graham Arnold's side a lift, and when Awer Mabil made it 2-0 just two minutes later they had a stranglehold on the match.

Maclaren said of his goal: "It's been a long time coming…but I've just stayed on my path. I'm a goalscorer and it was going to come one way or another; many people say I can't head the ball but today I showed them."

He added: "Right from the start we scored two early goals so that really settles us. It's a great win from the boys and a clean sheet as well helps."

There was pressure on the Socceroos after they went down 1-0 in their first game to Jordan, but Chris Ikonomidis, who claimed assists on goals by Mabil and substitute Apostolos Giannou, said there had been no panic in the squad ahead of the Palestine match.

"We just stuck to our tactics throughout the week; it's a new era under Arnie and we're really finding our feet now," he added.

"We were a young front line out there today and it showed in our fluency up front, our diversity and interchanging positions."

Ikonomidis was one of three new faces in the Socceroos starting side following the Jordan loss.

Australia will face Syria in their final Group B game, knowing a draw will be enough to send them through.

The Socceroos are 1/2 to win their next game against Syria, who are 13/2 with the draw 14/5.

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