Mark Bresciano

2015 Asian Cup preview: Japan shooting for fourth title in five tournaments

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The 2015 Asian Cup, the 16th edition of the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) quadrennial international tournament, kicks off in Australia this Friday, January 9. Winners of this month’s Asian Cup will represent the AFC at the 2017 Confederations Cup, the tune-up tournament a year ahead of the 2018 World Cup, in Russia.

Japan, the most prolific winners of the Asian Cup (four times, all within the last six tournaments), are once again favorites to be crowned champions. Other past Asian Cup winners include South Korea (twice), Isreal, Iran (three times), Kuwait, Saudi Arabia (three times) and Iraq.

The final will be played on Saturday, January 31 at 3:30 am ET.

Asian soccer is unquestionably on the rise, just as it is here in the United States, so this year’s tournament is as good of a time as any to take the plunge and begin really familiarizing yourself with players who have long since been playing for a number of Europe’s biggest clubs.

HOST CITIES, VENUES, SCHEDULE

Stadium Australia — Sydney — 84,000 capacity
Hunter Stadium — Newcastle — 33,000 capacity
Suncorp Stadium — Brisbane — 52,500 capacity
GIO Canberra Stadium — Canberra — 25,000 capacity
AAMI Park — Melbourne — 30,000 capacity

Full schedule of group stage fixtures

GROUP A

source: Getty ImagesAustralia
Players to watch: F – Tim Cahill (right), New York Red Bulls; M – Mile Jedinak, Crystal Palace; M – Mark Bresciano, Al-Gharafa
Prediction: Group A runners-up after losing South Korea, and defeating Oman and Kuwait. Decent upside to reach the semis as hosts.

 

Oman
Players to watch: GK – Ali Al-Habsi, Wigan Athletic; F – Abdulaziz Al-Muqbali, Fanja; F – Amad Al-Hosni, Saham
Prediction: Third place, Group A. They’ll not be blown out in any of their group games and they’re get their day in the sun in the group stage finale against Kuwait.

 

source: Getty ImagesSouth Korea
Coach: Uli Stielike
Players to watch: M – Son Heung-min (left), Bayer Leverkusen; M – Ki Sung-yueng, Sunderland; M – Lee Chung-yong, Botlon Wanderers
Prediction: Group A winners after defeating Australia and Oman, and drawing Kuwait. Likely semifinalists with a date against a weak Group B’s runner-up in the quarters.

 

Kuwait
Players to watch: F – Bader Al-Mutawa, Qadsia; D – Musaed Neda, Al-Oruba; GK – Nawaf Al Khaldi, Qadsia
Prediction: Fourth place, Group A. A fairly young Kuwaiti team struggles this time around, but gains valuable experience in the process.


GROUP B

source: APUzbekistan
Players to watch: M – Server Djeparov (right), Seongnam; D- Vitaliy Denisov, Lokomotiv Moscow; M – Timur Kapadze, Lokomotiv Tashkent
Prediction: Group B winners. Not the toughest group in the world, and finishing top means avoiding South Korea in the quarterfinals. That should be all the motivation the Uzbeks need.

 

Saudi Arabia
Players to watch: F – Nasser Al-Shamrani, Al-Hilal; D – Osama Hawsawi, Al-Ahli; M – Saud Kariri, Al-Hilali
Prediction: Third place, Group B. A relatively inexperienced Saudi squad, compared to triumphant years gone by. Their opener vs. China could decide all.

 

source: Getty ImagesChina
Players to watch: M – Zheng Zhi (right, at front), Guangzhou Evergrande; D- Zhang Linpeng, Guangzhou Evergrande; F – Yang Xu, Changchun Yatai
Prediction: Group B runners-up. Three points in the opener vs. Saudi Arabia goes a long way to easing Chinese worries. A loss and they’re in trouble.

 

North Korea
Players to watch: F – Pak Kwang-ryong, Vaduz; M – Jong Il-gwan, Rimyongsu; D- Cha Jong-hyok, Wil 1900
Prediction: Fourth place, Group B.


GROUP C

source: Getty ImagesIran
Coach: Carlos Queiroz
Players to watch: M – Javad Nekounam (right), Osasuna; M – Ashkan Dejagah, Al-Arabi; F – Sardar Azmoun, Rubin Kazan
Prediction: Winners, Group C. Less than a semifinals appearance and they’ll be disappointed, and rightly so.

 

Qatar
Players to watch:
 M – Khalfan Ibrahim, Al Sadd; D – Bilal Mohammed, Al-Gharafa; M – Magid Mohamed, El Jaish
Prediction: Fourth place, Group C.

 

source: Getty ImagesUnited Arab Emirates
Players to watch: F – Ali Mabkhout, Al-Jazira; M – Omar Abdulrahman, Al-Ain; F – Ahmed Khalil, Al-Ahli
Prediction: Runners-up, Group C. UAE could handle their business and be through after games one and two before they have to bother with Iran. Then top spot in the group is on the line to see who avoids Japan.

 

Bahrain
Players to watch: M – Mohamed Salmeen, Al-Muharraq; M – Faouzi Aaish, Al-Sailiya; F – Ismail Abdul-Latif, Al-Muharraq
Prediction: Third place, Group C. The first two games present extremely tough challenges, but a winnable game in third place offers a chance to leave Australia with a good taste in their mouth.


GROUP D

source: Getty ImagesJapan
Coach: Javier Aguirre
Players to watch: M – Shinji Kagawa (right), Borussia Dortmund; F – Keisuke Honda, AC Milan; F – Shinji Okazaki, Mainz
Prediction: Group D winners. Anything other than a finals appearance will be deemed a disappointment, if not being crowned champions once again. The attacking talent is there for a another trophy, but as we saw at the World Cup last summer, the defense is more than a bit shaky.

 

Jordan
Coach: Ray Wilkins
Players to watch: F – Abdallah Deeb, Al-Riffa; GK – Amer Shafi, Al-Wehdat; M – Saeed Murjan, Al-Ramtha
Prediction: Third place, Group D.

 

source: Getty ImagesIraq
Players to watch: F – Younis Mahmoud, unattached; D – Ali Adnan, Rizespor; Humam Tariq (left), Al Dahfra; F – Justin Meram, Columbus Crew
Prediction: Group D runners-up. The Iraqis have moved on from the golden group that won the 2007 tournament and replaced big names with rising youngsters sprinkled throughout Europe. Tariq, 18, is a future star.

 

Palestine
Players to watch: F – Ashraf Nu’man, Al-Faisaly; M – Khader Yousef, Taraji Wadi Al-Nes; Hussam Abu Saleh, Hilal Al-Quds
Prediction: Fourth place, Group D.

At halftime: Two goals in a minute has Australia even with Netherlands at 1-1 – FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: Don’t tell Australia what happened to Spain last week, they don’t seem to care.

Despite the Dutch coming off a game in which they torched the defending champions 5-1, the Aussies haven’t just come out competitive, they’ve been flat out better.

The Australians absorbed some early pressure, and have things all square from Porto Alegre at 1-1.  In fact, because the Australians have been better, it’s surprisingly appropriate to call the first Dutch goal “against the run of play.”

FOLLOW LIVE: Soccerly’s real-time match center

Goals:

20′ – Australia were proving up to the task early, but Arjen Robben broke 3-on-1 and took it himself, slotting far post past Maty Ryan for a 1-0 Dutch lead.  Thanks to a headed pass from Daley Blind, Robben took the ball from the mid line, passed through a foul which the referee played advantage for, and made it all the way to the box for the finish. It appeared he had a wide-open Robin van Persie on the far side with Robben drawing the one defender, but he took it himself calmly.

21′ – Corner flag, I feel your pain. Tim Cahill responded immediately to Robben’s goal, catching the Dutch offsides and finishing powerfully off the underside of the crossbar and in. Off the restart, the referee played advantage for a Dutch foul, and the ball fell to Ryan McGowan who blasted a long-ball forward to Cahill on the far side of the box.  The striker one-timed a volley and the score was level 1-1.

Other key moments:

30′ – The Aussies equalized right after the Dutch scored, and after the scoreline was restored at level, they continued to press the Dutch defense, and had a pair of opportunities on the half-hour mark. Mathew Leckie’s cross trickled through the box untouched and fell to Mark Bresciano who launched a missile just over the crossbar.  Just after, an Aussie free kick fell through the Dutch defense untouched but also went unpunished.

44′ – Tim Cahill clattered into Bruno Martins Indi, earning himself a yellow card, his second of the tournament.  That means he will miss Australia’s next match, the group A finale against Spain.  Consequently, the next 45 minutes very well could be the last we see of the 34-year-old in a World Cup, or even in an Australia shirt altogether. The challenge also knocked Martins Indi out of the game with an injury, replaced by Memphhis Dupey.

LINEUPS:

Netherlands – Cillessen, Vlaar, de Vrij, Indi (Depay 45′), Blind, de Jong, Janmaat, de Guzman, van Persie, Sneijder, Robben.

Goals: Robben 20′

Australia – Ryan, Davidson, Cahill, Spiranovic, Leckie, Oar, Jedinak, McKay, McGowan, Wilkinson, Bresciano.

Goals: Cahill 21′

Key Players:

  • Tim Cahill – Always and forever the key man in their attack, Cahill is consistently the target of Australian crosses into the box.
  • Ryan McGowan/Mathew Leckie – A new addition into the Australian lineup with Ivan Franjic injured, McGowan was a force along the right-hand sideline, and pairing up with winger Leckie, the pair caused the Dutch all kinds of problems.
  • Arjen Robben – With Wesley Sneijder struggling mightily and Robin van Persie invisible, Robben was the only man involved in consistent Dutch attacks, and scored their first goal with a skillful break.

Numbers to know:

4 – Tim Cahill’s World Cup goals for Australia, half of the country’s all-time World Cup scoring tally.

11 – Successful passes by Wesley Sneijder in 18 attempts, just a 61% completion rate.

11 – Number of touches for Robin van Persie in the first half. He has one shot, one completed pass, and is 0/1 in take-ons.

Questions for the second half:

  • How will Louis van Gaal mold the offense to get his attack more involved? With Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder ineffective up front, this could be our first look at how van Gaal will work things at Manchester United when it’s not going as planned in the attack.
  • Can Australia keep up the pressure? Australia held 55% of the possession, and outpassed the Dutch 207-163. It will be interesting to see how Australia counters the inevitable Dutch changes to come.

Chile starts strong, earns nervy 3 points with 3-1 win over Australia

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It appeared to be over early, but Australia made things difficult on Chile, who ultimately earned all three points after a 3-1 win over the Socceroos in Cuiaba.

The first half was all Chile on possession, owning 70% of the ball, and they took advantage early.

The Chileans scored twice in two minutes, with Alexis Sanchez striking first in the 12th minute when the Socceroos failed to clear, bringing goalkeeper Maty Ryan out of the net and with the ball pinballing around, Ryan barely got back before Sanchez snuck it through.

It was Jorge Valdivia for their second just two minutes later as he got acres of space at the top of the box, and slammed the ball into the top corner.

Chile took their foot off the gas pedal though, and things settled down for Australia.  Despite holding very little of possession, they found an opportunity and took it 10 minutes from halftime.

Tim Cahill, one of the world’s best headers, pulled one-back for Australia when Ivan Franjic won the ball with an expert tackle on the right edge before sending a perfect ball into the box. It was more than enough for Cahill to do what he does best, and he nodded home powerfully.

source: AP
Australia’s Tim Cahill, as he has been his whole career, was a threat in the air up front.

In the second half Australia looked the more dangerous of the two, as Cahill looked to have a second but was rightly ruled offsides despite heading into the net.

The Aussies again threatened in the 57th minute as a ball flew into the box from the left, and while Cahill – up for the header again – seemed to be pushed, Mark Bresciano snuck in far post and ripped a close-range shot that was well saved by Claudio Bravo.

Chile removed Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal with a half-hour left as he returns from knee surgery, and Chile nearly grabbed a third just a minute later.

Alexis Sanchez slotted through Eduardo Vargas, who couldn’t put a powerful shot on target but still slid the ball towards the line. But Alex Wilkinson came in to clear, and booted the ball off the line just before it trickled over.

Again Australia threatened, again off the head of Cahill but his effort from Jason Davidson went just over the bar with 20 minutes to go.

Both sides looked to counter each other with substitutes, as both Jean Beausejour for Chile and Ryan McGowan for Australia made a positive for their respective countries.

As things wound down, tired legs marked both sides, and Chile put things away in stoppage time for an assured victory.  Beausejour was the man to finish long distance on the rebound after Pinilla’s effort was saved.

It was a valiant effort by the underdogs, but ultimately Australia end up with nothing to show for it, and Spain and the Netherlands still remaining.

The three points for Chile keep them along with the Netherlands, who stormed to a shocking 5-1 victory over the defending champions Spain. However, the Chileans did not come close to the goal differential of the Dutch, something that could be a factor going forward if the other two teams in Group B beat Australia by a wider margin.

[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]

LINEUPS:

Chile – Bravo; Mena, Isla, Medel, Jara; Vidal (Gutierrez 60′), Valdivia (Beausejour 68′), Aranguiz, Diaz; Sanchez, Vargas (Pinilla 88′).

Goals – Sanchez 12′, Valdivia 14′, Beausejour 90+2′

Australia – Ryan; Franjic (McGowan 49′), Spiranovic, Wilkinson, Davidson; Bresciano (Troisi 78′), Milligan, Jedinak, Oar (Halloran 69′), Leckie; Cahill.

Goals – Cahill 35′