Preview: 2015 AFC Asian Cup – Semi-finals
SOUTH KOREA - IRAQ 70%-30%
26 January 2015, 20:00 local time (UTC+11), Stadium Australia, Sydney.
A traditional power in Asian football, that probably has had better squads in the future: speed and techninc are their main strenghts, while the lack of phisicity is the main weakness, so en effective team play will be essential to try to win the Title. The starter GK is Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon Bluewings), while the most notable defenders should be the centre-backs Kwak Tae-hwi (Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia) and Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande FC), and the full-backs Cha Du-ri (FC Seoul, he has spent the majority of his career in Europe, including spells with Eintracht Frankfurt, Mainz 05, SC Freiburg and Celtic FC), Kim Jin-su (TSG Hoffenheim) and Park Joo-ho (Mainz 05). The midfield is probably the best part of the team, having a lot of quality: there are two good playmaker such as Koo Ja-cheol (Mainz 05), and the Captain Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea City AFC, he previously also played for Celtic FC and Sunderland), and few very good winger, such as Nam Tae-hee (Lekhwiya SC, Qatar, but he also spent two seasons in French Ligue 1 with Valenciennes), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton Wanderers FC) and, most of all, Son Heung-min (Bayer 04 Leverkusen), a player that can provide several goals to the team and that surely is one of the best of the Competition. The lack of a continuous and prolific striker at international level has often been an issue for this National Team, and this year should make no difference: Lee Keun-ho (El-Jaish, Qatar), who has scored quite regularly in South Korea and Japan, should be the most reliable option, but he has never proved himself outside Asia. The manager is the notorious former German International Ulrich “Uli” Stielike.
This team is very interesting: they won this Competiton in 2007, and it looked a big shock, but, to be honest, they have always reached at least the Quarter-finals since 1996 (5 editions). Few footballers play in Europe, one even in USA, while the Iraqi teams are performing quite well in AFC Cup (the second club competition in Asia), so the local Championships isn’t awful as well.
This team is clearly the youngest of this Competion, as there are 19 of 23 players that were born no before than 1991: the reason of that is that the successfull squad that reached the second place at the 2012 AFC U-19 Championship and the fourth one at 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup has almost entirely been transferred to the Senior National Team by the manager Radhi Shenaishil, a former Iraqi International. All of the goalkeepers are very young, and that’s quite strange, because usually GKs are among the most experienced players: Jalal Hassan (23, Erbil SC) is the older one, and he should fight for a place in the goal with Mohammed Hameed Farhan (Al Shorta SC). Salam Shaker (28, Al Shorta SC) is the most experienced defender, while CB Ahmad Ibrahim Khalaf (Ayman Club, UAE) and the left backs Ali Adnan Kadhim (21, Çaykur Rizespor, Turkish first tier), who is both one of the strongest and one of the most promising element of the team and he is son e niece of important footballers (especially his uncle), and his replacement Dhurgham Ismail (20, Al Shorta SC) are names to note. In the middle of the pitch the most interesting players should be Yaser Kasim (Swindown Town FC, English third tier), Saad Abdul-Amir (Erbil SC), the winger Ahmed Yasin (Örebro SK ,Swedish first tier) and the attacking midfielder Humam Tariq (Al Dhafra SSC, UAE), who is only 18 and has already collected 26 caps with Iraqi NT. The Captain Younis Mahmoud (31, unattached) was the protagonist of 2007 triumph and is the most experienced player of the squad (51 goals in 132 matches), and still one of the best ones, even if he’s currently without club: he spent the majority of his career in the Middle East, but we really would have liked to see him playing in Europe to test his level somewhere else. Alaa Abdul-Zahra (27, Al Shorta SC), who can also play as attacking midfielder, and the US-born Justin Meram (Columbus Crew SC, MLS, American first tier) are the main other offensive options.
AUSTRALIA - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES 65%-35%
27 January 2015, h. 20:00 local time (UTC+11), Newcastle Stadium, Newcastle.
This squad is weaker than the one we saw in South Africa in 2010, and much weaker than the one we had seen in Germany in 2006, that was a very good team: in Brazil they ended the difficult Group B with 0 points as expected, anyway they didn’t disappoint too much, causing several troubles both to Chile and Holland. In the past several Australian prospects were used to go to play abroad in order to improve themselves, now a lot of them stay in the local A-League, whose level has increased (it should be the same of the second tier in Italy, England, Germany etc.), but is still far from the top European and South American leagues, while several other Australian footballers move to other Asian Countries (Australia is a member of AFC), in which they are most wanted, because in many Asian leagues one of the few foreign players, that are allowed to be signed, must come from another AFC Federation, and so they seldom are still called up for National Team. Excluding Robbie Kruse (Bayer 04 Leverkusen), there are no players from top European clubs: they usually play for mid-table teams in top Leagues, or for top-teams in medium Championships. Mathew Ryan (Club Brugge, best goalkeeper in the last Belgian Championship) is favorite on Mitchell Langerak (Borussia Dortmund’s second GK) to defend the Socceroos’s goal, while the main defenders should be Matthew Spiranovic (Western Sydney Wanderers FC), James Davidson (WBA), Chris Herd (Aston Villa), and the full-backs Ivan Franjic (Torpedo Moskva) and Aziz Behich (Bursaspor). The midfield is probably the strongest part of the team with Mark Milligan (Melbourne Victory), Matt McKay (Brisbane Roar), the Captain Mile Jerdinak (Crystal Palace), the offensive James Troisi (Zulte Waregem), almost a second striker, and the wingers Mark Bresciano (Al Gharafa), and Tommy Oar (FC Utrecht). On the front, Robbie Kruse (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) is probably the best player of the team, while the younger Tomi Juric (Western Sydney Wanderers) and Mathew Leckie (FC Ingolstad O4) can be interesting alternatives. Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls) needs a separate chapter: he’s 35, but he’s probably still the most important element of the team, surely the most experienced, and he can play both in the midfield and in the attack, so Head Coach Ange Postecoglou will be able to choose among several options.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
This National Team had its golden period in the 90’s, as they played at 1990 World Cup in Italy and got a fourth (1992) and a second (1996) place in AFC Asian Cup. The squad members play all in the local League, that is one of the most competitive in Asia, mostly thanks to some good foreigners. The Captain is the short-tempered GK Majed Naser (Al Ahli Club), while the centre-backs Walid Abbas (Al Ahli Club) and Hamdan Al-Kamali (Al Wahda, he also had two not very successful spells in Europe at OL and Valletta FC) are the best defenders. The CM Amer Abdulrahman (Baniyas SC) and the wingers Omar Abdulrahman (Al-Ain FC) and Ismail Al Hammadi (Al Ahli Club) are the most notable midfielders, while the attack is maybe the strongest part of the team. Ahmed Khalil (Al Ahli SC) will probably be the starting striker, considering that he still quite young (23), but he has already an high goal-scoring-average both with his club and the NT: Saeed Al-Kathiri (Al-Wasl FC) and Ali Mabkhout (Al-Jazira S&C Club) are the best alternatives. The Emirati Mahdi Ali is the Head Coach.