World Cup Qualifying, Asia: The divergent Middle Eastern fortunes of Australia, South Korea

Leave a comment

There are worse things than being a one-trick pony, particularly if you’re an absolute master at that trick. For Australia, that one trick is their dominance in the air, a trait that saw them take Asia by storm during the last World Cup qualifying cycle. The rest of the continent, seemingly unprepared for such aesthetics eschewing pragmatism, watched as the likes of Joshua Kennedy and Tim Cahill head Australia to the top of the region.

In the years that followed the Aussies’ fist AFC qualifying campaign, Asia seemed to adjust. Japan won the continental title in 2011, and the Australians went without a win in the first three matches of fourth (final) round World Cup Qualifying. Coming off a surprise loss in Jordan, the Socceroos’ Tuesday match with Iraq had a must win feel to it.

Despite that urgency, Australia fell behind in the 72nd minute, an Alaa Abdul-Zahra goal giving Iraq a 1-0 lead. That’s when Australia’s one trick came through. Tim Cahill pulled back Iraq’s lead with an 80th minute header, while Archie Thompson, experiencing an unlikely international revival, put home an 84th minute winner.

Often people try to defend Australia as been more than a team reliant on crosses and set pieces – as if being a one-trick pony is a bad think within world soccer. When you survey the array of soccer-playing nations, you see most don’t even have one trick to lean on. Enviably, Australia has a reliable tactic in reserve.

It was a crushing loss for Iraq, who sit bottom of Asia’s Group B with a 0-2-2 record that fails to reflect their quality. Banned by FIFA from playing matches at home, the Iraqis are left wondering if results like today’s would occur if their home matches weren’t relocated to Qatar. Had the Iraqis held on, they’d be sitting in Australia’s spot: Second place, five points behind Japan, holding the inside track on a place at Brazil 2014.

Swagger-less favorites

In Asia’s other group, South Korea still has one of those inside tracks, even if they’ll be disappointed with Tuesday’s performance in Tehran. Though their hosts gave the Koreans every chance to claim full points, Group A’s leaders left Iran empty-handed.

The Iranians played cautiously over the match’s first act before showing some ambition as halftime approached. Korea only threatened from dead balls but, thanks to the service of Ki Sung-Yeung, still looked looked more likely to score, heading against the crossbar twice before break.

When Iran went a man down early in the second (Masoud Shojaei seeing red in the 56th minute), the Koreans were put on track for three, though it was the Iranians’ set piece magic that ultimately gave Carlos Quieroz’s team full points. A 76th minute ball served from the right met with a lazy clearance, the resulting ball allowing captain Javad Nekonam to blast home the game’s only goal.

Jung Sung-Ryong’s reaction summed up South Korea’s day. The goalkeeper was given no chance to stop the 17-yard blast into the left of his net. As the Nekonam’s ball bent the net, Jung’s head swung from his goal, back to Nekonam, then into space as he took a moment to process what had happened. The Iranians ran toward the crowd, piling on their captain as he ran down the field’s encircling track, leaving the Koreans to think back on a match they never seized, even after they were awarded a numerical advantage.

At full time, Iran’s celebrations highlighted the opportunity South Korea had lost. As Quieroz came down from the stands (where he had been sent for being a general nuisance all night), his players formed a mob on the field, with one of the best crowds of the international break celebrating the upset of a regional power.

Korea never played like the favorite. They never took advantage of what could have been a psychological edge. Even after going up a man, they played the match on Iran’s terms.

The only hint the match gave of Korea’s stature was Iran’s opening tactics – a cautious approach that sought to pressure Korea, but only after they’d been baiting to moving down the flanks. Compact and patient, Iran waited out the match’s first half hour despite being the home side. Come the 30-minute mark, it was impossible to tell Korea was a perpetual World Cup qualifier visiting a team hoping to reestablish some international prestige.

AFC World Cup Qualifying – Standings

Group A

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
South Korea 4 2 1 1 9 4 +5 7
Iran 4 2 1 1 2 1 +1 7
Uzbekistan 4 1 2 1 4 4 0 5
Qatar 4 1 1 2 2 5 −3 4
Lebanon 4 1 1 2 2 5 −3 4

Tuesday results

Qatar 0, Uzbekistan 1
Iran 1, South Korea 0

Group B

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Japan 4 3 1 0 11 1 +10 10
Australia 4 1 2 1 4 4 0 5
Oman 4 1 2 1 3 5 −2 5
Jordan 4 1 1 2 4 10 −6 4
Iraq 4 0 2 2 3 5 −2 2

Tuesday results

Oman 2, Jordan 1
Iraq 1, Australia 2

Pressure builds on Borussia Dortmund manager Peter Bosz

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Borussia Dortmund has fallen to fifth in the Bundesliga table thanks to a trio of consecutive losses in league play, and suddenly there is loads of pressure on manager Peter Bosz.

The Dutchman came to Westfalenstadion after upper management pushed Thomas Tuchel out over the summer, and while he won seven of his first eight league matches in charge by a total goal differential of 21-2, things have come crashing down. The black & yellow have lost three in a row Bundesliga matches and four of their last five across all competitions, with their only win in that span coming over third-tier Magdenburg.

With fans feeling helpless over the departure of the wildly successful Tuchel that came as a result of a falling out between the German and his superiors, Bosz would always be on a short leash. He inherited a flawed squad, yet one that had achieved much under his predecessor, and immediate failures would naturally be lumped on the new man.

The most recent defeat, a 2-1 falter at Stuttgart, was a microcosm of Dortmund’s recent failures. The team conceded a comically poor goal five minutes into the match, worked hard to equalize just before the halftime break, and conceded again just after returning to the pitch. They controlled much of the match, but largely failed to capitalize.

The head man summed it up pretty well. “The defeat really hurts,” Bosz proclaimed after the final whistle. “We came here to win, so we’re very disappointed. When you see the goals we conceded, it borders on the ridiculous. It hurts because we actually put in a relatively good performance in the first half. The team performed well after conceding the early goal, only the final ball was lacking. The second half wasn’t as good. We need to keep going, we won’t give up.”

So what do the Dortmund executives do? Does Bosz get the benefit of the doubt based on performances? Or does he get blamed for the sudden dropoff in results? There is plenty of pressure given the team sits not only nine points back of Borussia Dortmund in league play, but is also third in a brutal Champions League group with almost no hope of recovery, and even threatens to miss out on a drop to Europa League play if they slip behind Cypriot club Apoel Nicosia, whom they find themselves level on points with.

Even if the club sticks with the Dutchman for now, his room for error has almost completely evaporated and it’s only mid-November. The next two matches will likely tell the tale, and it’s an uphill battle. Tottenham comes to Westfalenstadion on the backs of a disappointing defeat to North London foes Arsenal, followed by the home end of the Rivierderby against a Schalke side that sits second in the Bundesliga table, three points above Bosz and Dortmund.

Antonio Conte calls Tony Pulis a “really good manager”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Brom, after four straight defeats, sits 17th in the Premier League table, most recently suffering a 4-0 dismantling at the hands of Chelsea.

Yet Blues boss Antonio Conte has offered his counterpart an olive branch, supporting his fellow Premier League manager at a time of panic.

With reports that Pulis could be fired this coming week – some say as early as Monday – the Baggies boss is under heaps of pressure, but Conte doesn’t believe he should be. “I must be honest, I think Tony Pulis is a really good manager,” Conte said, hoping those in charge don’t make decisions based on Sunday’s result.

“He has great experience and it’s always very difficult to play against his team. This game became easy because we started very strong, with great concentration and desire to win. We showed from the start our will to win this game. But I repeat: Last season we struggled a lot against them.”

West Brom has lost four in a row in league play, and they haven’t picked up a win since August, and as The Guardian points out, they have the lowest average possession in the Premier League and have the second-lowest shots on target thus far. They registered just two shots on target against Chelsea, and held 39% possession, which is actually slightly above their average for the season.

Sergio Ramos suffers broken nose in Atletico Madrid draw

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Real Madrid trails Barcelona by 10 points in the La Liga title race just 12 matches in, and now they will have to play catch-up without their best defender.

Club captain Sergio Ramos suffered a broken nose after being accidentally kicked in the face by teammate Lucas Hernandez during the first half of Madrid’s 0-0 draw with cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid. He received treatment and remained on the field, but he was withdrawn at halftime.

Manager Zinedine Zidane was unable to give a timetable for Ramos’s return.

Ramos said via Twitter, alongside some graphic images of his bloody nose, “I would bleed a thousand times for this badge and this shirt. Thanks for your support. I’ll be back in no time.”

Up next for Madrid is Champions League group match against Cypriot club Apoel midweek before a league game against Malaga at home. Athletic Bilbao and Borussia Dortmund are also on the horizon. A masked Sergio Ramos could be in our midst soon.

Real Madrid has not lost a league match without Ramos since March of 2015, but they drew their only game this season with Ramos suspended, a 2-2 home split with Valencia.

Moyes roasts West Ham players after loss to Watford

Getty Images
1 Comment

After his first game in charge of West Ham, David Moyes thought he had a better squad. Apparently he was mistaken.

A 2-0 loss to Watford gave Moyes a rude awakening as he looks to replace Slaven Bilic and pull the Hammers out of the relegation zone. He was not pleased with his players.

“Overall, that level of performance will not be good enough,” Moyes told reporters after the match.

He wasn’t done.

“I thought this was a big job, but there were some players with big reputations who disappointed me. There were some who I thought would show me more, and why they play for the team regularly. They need to show me, ‘If that’s your reputation, show me why you’ve got it.'”

He backtracked slightly, agreeing that the players are in a difficult position changing managers, but ultimately that excuse wasn’t enough for him. “It’s tough for the players – I could sense that – but I didn’t enjoy our performance in the end. I didn’t enjoy us giving the ball away too cheaply, too many times and I expected us to do better.”

Moyes even called out striker Andy Carroll, saying he removed the England international because he feared Carroll would pick up a second yellow card. Carroll could have been carded seven seconds into the match, leaving Marvin Zeegelaar with a bloody nose after an elbow to the face, something Carroll has been sent off for earlier this season. He was eventually given one in the 28th minute.

“I thought we defended OK,” Moyes said, “but then we gave away cheap goals by getting bundled off the ball and we didn’t really deal with it. We didn’t do well enough in all departments at different times.”

That’s about as ruthless as you’ll ever hear the mild-mannered David Moyes, and all West Ham players should beware that their places in the team are in jeopardy.