Monday, July 23, 2007

The Other Quarters

Iraq 2 v Vietnam 0

IN my view, one of the two best performed teams of the tournament to date (along with Japan), Iraq again proved they are a genuine title threat with a dominant team display, controlling the game from start to finish with their technical and in-synch style, proving too big and too cluey for Vietnam. Not surprisingly, it was the two leaders, holding midfielder Nashat Akram and striker Younis Mahmoud, that provided the inspiration. Akram is the architect, smooth and sophisticated, gliding through the midfield, teeing up his teammates or taking it on himself. He gets better with every game. Younis is the leader from the front, driving his team forward, putting himself about in attack and defence, setting the pressing tempo, cajoling his team to give more. Here he bagged another two, one in each half, both from set pieces, one with the head, one with his feet to prove he can do it both in the air and on the ground. They weren't the only winners for Iraq. While Hawar Mulla Muhammad was relatively quiet, in defence they had two star performers, bald headed duo Bassim Abbas (the left back) and left stopper Jassim Gholam. Coach Jorvan Vieira has done an excellent job with this team but says he was disappointed with the performance, perhaps a subtle reminder that they will need to step up another level against South Korea. Vietnam had clearly played their grand finals against the UAE and Qatar and have been outclassed the past two matches. Alfred Reidl hasn't done his team any favours in either game though, playing far too defensive.

Iran 0 v South Korea 0 (South Korea won 4-2 on penalties)

ALOT was expected of this clash between two of the heavyweights of the competition, but in truth it disappointed, much as their respective campaigns have been. In truth that was largely down to the driving rain, which didn't stop. While there has been much talk about Iran being among the most impressive sides, I haven't shared that view, feeling that they have really struggled at either end of the pitch. Defensively, they have really looked shaky, especially in goalkeeper Hassan Rodbarian and left stopper Rahman Rezaei, while up front they have struggled to find a dependable pairing, especially with Vahid Hashemian so wasteful and Reza Enayati failing to fill the void. It has been left to their top-class midfield of Javed Nekounam, Ali Karimi and Andranik Teymourian to get them this far. Obviously concerned with the defensive woes, manager Amir Ghalenoei made some strange tactical adjustment for this game, going back to a back three (after it was so unsuccessful in the first half against China) and dropping the hitherto impressive Fereydoon Zandi. The signs of doubt were everywhere, emphasised by his bizarre decision to change keepers before the spot-kicks. All this hesitation was enough to encourage Pim Verbeek and his young men, fresh from an encouraging second half display against Indonesia, where they squeezed the life out of the hosts, to go for the win. While they didn't create too many chances in general play, the Koreans were competitive, both physically and technically, and organised, and continue to improve with the tournament. In midfielder Kim Jung-woo (#17), who dispatched the winning penalty, they have one of the stars of the tournament, a driving presence with good ability in the air and on the ground. The defence, marshalled by 21 year old Kang Min-soo (#22), is improving enough to suggest more joy might be around the corner, while experienced keeper Lee Woon-jae is a settling influence.

Saudi Arabia 2 v Uzbekistan 1

ARGUABLY the game of the tournament, this match had everything. The Saudis got off to a great start, the two impressive Al Qahtani's, Abdulrahman and Yasser, combining for the go-ahead. Back came the Uzbeks, playmaker Server Djeperov hitting the post, leading to a period of total domination from the team lead by Dinamo Kiev striker Maksim Shatskikh. He should have had an equaliser just before the half-hour mark, pouncing on a spilt free-kick, only to be denied by a terrible offside decision, one of the worst you will see. The Uzbeks were playing some delighful stuff, driving out of midfield, combining on the edge of the box and shooting at will, denied by the post on numerous occasions, but the Saudis, with the lively pocket-rockets up front, Yasser Al Qahtani and Malek Maaz (how much elivation do they both get?), were always a threat on the counter. Ultimately the Uzbeks grew more and more frustrated and the Saudis came strong in the middle period of the second half, substitue Ahmed Al Mousa getting on the end of arguably the passing move of the tournament. The Saudis were starting to enjoy themselves, stringing some delighful short passing moves, and the Uzbek defence was all over the place. Problem for the Saudis was that their own defence, especially down the middle, was also very suspect, Uzbekistan finally grabbing one with about 10 minutes to go. It made it a grand-stand finish, Uzbek striker Aleksandr Geynrikh denied a late late equaliser by the Saudi keeper and the post. It was thrilling stuff, the Saudis lucky to survive. Wonderful going forward, they leave gaps galore at the back, which will wet the lips of the likes of Takahara, Maki, Shunsuke Nakamura and Endo.

For what it's worth, it's Iraq vs Japan in the final for me. What about you?

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go Iraq - what a great story if they win.

Tue. Jul. 24, 05:06:00 pm AEST  
Blogger Mike Salter said...

Great reviews Tony. I just did a semi-final review on TFT which echoes many of your comments (although I hadn't read your piece before bashing out mine). I too reckon Japan v. Iraq in the final is most likely; the Koreans will be absolutely buggered after that game against Iraq IMO, and the Saudis are just too vulnerable in defence. But you never know.

Tue. Jul. 24, 08:24:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

anonymous, thanks for the comment. like you,i think it would be great if iraq went all the way, but i've read two interesting pieces today that the conspiracy theorists would love.

first, on twg, there's a piece which quotes a senior afc official as saying a 'japan-korea' final would be a dream final, always a worry when you start hearing that.

then, on foxsports, theres a piece which speaks of the logistical challenges that Iraq has had to face in moving to Malaysia over the past couple of days. Perhasp thats Jorvan Vieira just playing mind-games, which he appears to love, but if there's any truth to it, it's an indictment on the organising committee in my mind.

Tue. Jul. 24, 09:43:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

mike, you're right, you never know. I'm tipping Iraq cause I've been really impressed with their teamwork, from the back, through the middle and up front. They are, quite simply, a quality unit.

South Korea meanwhile are improving every game, and because of their youth, will no doubt be gaining in confidence. So looking forward to the battle between akram and kim jung-woo.

Hope the conditions are decent enough to provide us with a better spectacle than iran-korea.

Think Japan will win the other one pretty comfortably.

Tue. Jul. 24, 09:52:00 pm AEST  

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