We’re now two months on from the World Cup final in Brazil and we return for another international cycle starting with the September internationals. While Africa looks on at the AFCON qualifiers taking place over the next few months, Asia are preparing themselves for upcoming Asian Games, Gulf Cup and Asian Cup competitions coming over the horizon. Martin Lowe (@plasticpitch) has a look at how the Asian Cup qualified sides have done this international period and which sides still need to make improvements ahead of Australia 2015.
Uzbekistan were the clear victors in Asia over the international break, with back to back victories over Jordan and New Zealand. Many would argue that they weren’t the stiffest of opponents, with both matches taking place at home, but recording two goal victories over two similarly matched teams isn’t to be scoffed at. The usual suspects in the Uzbek line-up turned in great displays, a brace from Ahmedov and another from Djeparov sealed the 3-1 win over the All Whites.
Another side to have kept an unbeaten record during the week at home was China PR, who recorded a win and a draw over the week. A win over Kuwait, followed up with a draw against Jordan, are solid results to take into their remaining preparation. Bahrain, likewise, collected a win over Kuwait as they prepare for November’s Gulf Cup, where their opponents will likely be a rival for a semi or even final place.
After a dismal World Cup display (in fairness, not out of keeping of the rest of Asia), new ground was being tread by Korea Republic as they tried to kick on into a new international cycle. After announcing Uli Stielike as their new head coach last week, Korea recorded an impressive victory led by returning striker Lee Dong-Guk against Venezuela before being edged by a superior Uruguay side. Stielike will take charge of his first match when the October internationals roll around, but he will have been relatively happy with what he saw this week.
As average goes, three consecutive draws in a week is pretty stable. However, considering the location of the matches and the opposition they faced the United Arab Emirates will be happy with their period of matches. Their tour took them across Europe to face Norway, Lithuania and Paraguay, and to come back only to have conceded one goal illustrates the standard in which they have been playing at over the last year.
Also on the build are Australia who impressed without getting the results in Brazil, with much of the same being seen again from Postecoglou’s men this week. A loss to an impressive Belgium was expected, while an exciting 3-2 loss to Saudi Arabia in London at the very least avoided an unenviable all time consecutive loss record. There were little tweaks on show, but the final product is still a way away.
On the other side, Saudi Arabia have a stable side who struggled defensively against the Australians. They could be forgiven to be playing in an unfamiliar environment, considering the amount of European based talent Australia had at their disposal, but will they have been impressed with their attacking profits.
An away defeat at Uzbekistan illustrates where Jordan are right now within the Asian rankings. An Asian Cup title is a way off at the moment, but a solid showing is necessary to appease their public. A follow up draw with China in Harbin was more impressive and showed what the fans wanted from their team. Qatar, equally, had an erratic week, after holding AFCON 2015 hosts Morocco to a 0-0 draw in Casablanca they lost 2-0 at home to Peru. The opposition were a stern test, but question marks will remain over their attack going into the Gulf Cup.
Palestine go into the Asian Cup as the lowest rank side and will be happy enough to just be there after a whirlwind few years. That being said, a hammering at the hands of Myanmar, who they had clearly progressed further than in the AFC Challenge Cup three months ago, wasn’t promising. A 7-3 (after extra time) win over Chinese Taipei gave them some hope, but the standard of opposition is clearly going to step up in Australia. A further note of disappoint was the news that Jamal Mahmoud has stepped down as head coach only months after leading Palestine to Challenge Cup glory.
It’s all change at Japan, but the same old problems persist. Mexican Javier Aguirre has stepped into Alberto Zaccheroni’s vacant managerial shoes and has immediately stamped his imprint on the side. Reverting to a 4-3-3 with a few unfamiliar names, Japan were soundly beaten by Uruguay before scraping a draw with Venezuela. Both matches illustrated the lack of defensive cohesion that they still suffer from, with their best CB prospect Masato Morishige playing in an unfamiliar holding midfield role.
Back to back defeats against China and Bahrain will not do the confidence of Kuwait any good and just shows their turnaround in fortunes since last year, when they pipped Bahrain in September; with a reasonably strong group in the Gulf Cup, they could well struggle.
One of their opponents in the competition will be Oman who were outclassed by Ireland in Dublin early in the week. It was a shame they hadn’t organised a second friendly against a similar strength side to themselves ahead of the Gulf Cup, something that isn’t being carried over to October where they play Costa Rica and Uruguay.
Iraq were in a similar predicament, after only playing one friendly this week; a 2-0 loss to Peru in Dubai. Iraq have had to piggyback on their neighbour organisations to arrange friendlies in the last decade due to security worries of hosting internationals in their own country. Similar problems were felt by Korea DPR, who haven’t played an official friendly since February and will continue to struggle ahead of January to organise worthwhile perpetration.
Iran have less excuses after a solid showing at the World Cup, but also failed to organise a friendly over the international period. Focus has been firmly fixed on the managerial future of Carlos Queiroz, his soap opera involving the IFF could finally be coming to an end after hearing some promising sounds coming out of both camps in the last week.