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

Watch Live: Sheffield United v. Crystal Palace

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sheffield United host Crystal Palace at Bramall Lane on Sunrday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blades fans will enjoy their first home game back in the Premier League.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Chris Wilder, the lifelong United fan who is now their manager, will be emotional and fans of the Yorkshire club will create a heated atmosphere for opponents to visit this season.

In team news Sheffield United are unchanged from the team which drew at Bournemouth last week, with club captain Billy Sharp on the bench.

Crystal Palace bring in star man Wilfried Zaha who starts up top


LINEUPS

Zidane says Bale will stay at Real Madrid

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Gareth Bale is staying at Real Madrid.

The Welshman was not wanted by manager Zinedine Zidane, who stated that publicly on many occasions over the summer.

But Bale started and grabbed an assist as 10-man Real beat Celta Vigo 3-1 in their La Liga opener on Saturday and it seems like Zidane is ready to brush all of this Bale talk under the carpet.

“He’s going to stay and we all have to think of that as a positive thing,” Zidane said. “The injury to Eden Hazard was bad luck for us but it didn’t change the plans we had for Bale in this game. Gareth and everyone else here is going to show this shirt the respect it deserves.”

After his move to China broke down at the last minute amid conflicting reports blaming Bale and the club for the collapse of the deal, his future at Real has seemed pretty much dead in the water.

Adding in a serious injury to Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard picking up a knock, and all of a sudden Bale is needed again. But for how long?

He was linked with a loan move to Bayern Munich but Philippe Coutinho moved to Bavaria instead, and Bale wasn’t chased by Premier League clubs during the summer due to his huge wage demands. With the transfer window across many European countries closing at the end of this month, he has run out of options to leave a club where the hierarchy and fans don’t want him.

Bale, 30, is now stuck at Real and he has another three years left on his contract. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the man who has won four Champions League trophies at Real, yet has become the main villain at the Santiago Bernabeu as fans lambast him for playing golf and not learning to speak Spanish fluently during his six years in Spain.

Ibrahimovic scores twice, 10-man Galaxy ties Sounders 2-2

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Carson, Calif. (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in each half and the LA Galaxy tied the Seattle Sounders 2-2 on Saturday night despite playing nearly the entire match down a man.

The Galaxy’s Daniel Steres was sent off in the sixth minute for the denial of obvious goal opportunity.

Ibrahimovic tied it at 1 for the Galaxy (13-11-2) with a header in the 45th minute. In the 65th minute, he was taken down by Kim Kee-hee while going for a header in the area and converted the penalty, making it 2-1 with his 20th goal of the season.

LA defender Jorgen Skjelvik scored an own goal in the 82nd minute when he inadvertently deflected goalkeeper David Bingham’s attempted clearance into the Galaxy net.

Raul Ruidiaz opened the scoring in the 42nd minute for the Sounders (11-8-7). Harry Shipp hustled to round up a loose ball and fed it to an open Ruidiaz, who slotted it home.

MLS Wrap: What we learned

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three unanswered goals from FC Dallas to earn a draw, a late Jozy Altidore goal and Chicago cruises past Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union: Saturday’s early slate of games had it all. Here’s what we learned from the busy action.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Montreal, Dallas split points in six-goal thriller

The Montreal Impact, up 3-0 in the 56th minute, probably thought they had the game in the bag. Dallas said, ‘not so fast.’

With three unanswered goals – one of those in stoppage time – Dallas did the unthinkable, stunning the Impact and flying back home with a point that tastes like three.

Dallas, like practically everyone else in the West this season, is dreaming of cracking into the final seven. Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen. What was palpable on Saturday, however, is that Dallas played with a lot of determination on the road and with all the odds against them.


Chicago gets by Philadelphia with ease

The Philadelphia Union are good but not good enough to beat the Chicago Fire, apparently.

It could have been the league’s well-known parity, or the fact that the Union were on the road, but the Fire were able to squeeze out the three points, winning 2-0 with 10 men. Nicolas Gaitan earned a straight red right before halftime.

The Union, a proven side time and time again this season, alternatively, have questions to answer and a set of defects that were unearth Saturday (including finishing) to polish up on. But as they shown several times this season after suffering loses, they’ll bounce back under Jim Curtin.

The Fire (33 points) sit one point behind Montreal, Toronto and Orlando, while Philadelphia (45 points) remain clear leaders in the Eastern Conference.


 

NYCFC too much for Cincinnati 

NYCFC had quite the showing.

With Valentin Castellanos and Heber recording a brace each, Allan Cruz’s goal stood no chance. City, who are now third in the Eastern Conference with 41 points (one behind Atlanta), are clearly in midseason form, while FC Cincinnati is yet to win under Ron Jans.

With a defense that has allowed 61 goals – like the one above – Jans’ rest of the season is looking bleaker than brighter. But then again, it’s with a team he purely adopted. It worth noting that New York’s attack has produced eight goals in the last three games, so maybe that was the determining factor.

 

 


 

Altidore earns last-minute draw for Toronto

Like in many other instances, it was Altidore to the rescue for Toronto FC.

Its goal No. 10 for the 29-year-old goal, making it his fourth season with double digit goals. Jonathan Osorio, too, pitched in a goal in the 42nd minute. 26 games in, this is exactly when Greg Vanney needs his big-time players to step up.

The Columbus Crew, in contrast, can’t catch a break. Once again the superior team, a lack of finishing and defensive concentration make it three-straight draws for the Caleb Porter’s men. With seven games to go and seven points out of playoff contention, even a late run might not be enough for a postseason regular.