ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — South Korea, defending champion Australia and Japan made it through to the Asian Cup quarter-finals knowing there is much room for improvement as the continental tournament enters its finals stages.
Even with the arrival of Son Heung-min from Tottenham, South Korea struggled to get past Bahrain, ranked 60 places lower by FIFA at 113, in Tuesday’s second-round game in Dubai. It needed an extra-time goal from Kim Jin-su to settle the encounter and book a quarter-final with Qatar.
“It was a tough game.” Son told reporters. “It’s all about attitude as well, and I’m a bit unhappy with our performance. I think we’re better than that.”
Australia, which beat the South Koreans in the 2015 final on home soil, needed a penalty shootout to get past Uzbekistan after 120 minutes of action ended goalless.
Japan was also below its best in eliminating Saudi Arabia 1-0, leaving Iran and Qatar as the best performers so far.
The quarterfinals take place today and tomorrow with the final held in Abu Dhabi on February 1.
Japan vs Vietnam
Japan, seeking a fifth title, has won all four games so far. A second round 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia came as a result of a solid defensive performance from the team which has fewer big stars such as Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki than in the past.
Japan, which reached the second round at last year’s World Cup, has yet to find its fluency in attack under coach Hajime Moriyasu but will still be expected to win against Vietnam in Dubai.
Vietnam is riding a wave led by South Korean coach Park Hang-seo. The penalty shootout win over Jordan in the previous round provoked street parties across the Southeast Asian country, to rival those that greeted the win in the regional championship in December.
That would be nothing compared with the celebrations that would ensue should a young and talented Vietnam team, which has recovered well after losing its first two group games, defeats Japan.
Australia vs United Arab Emirates
Australia held off Uzbekistan courtesy of a penalty shootout but will be without the suspended influential playmaker Tom Rogic against the tournament hosts in Al Ain tomorrow.
The Socceroos bounced back after an opening loss to Jordan but have yet to show the form of title-winner and have especially struggled against teams that have sat deep.
United Arab Emirates may be playing on home soil but is also yet to find its form.
A lack of goals was a concern for coach Alberto Zaccheroni before the competition started. Those worries have eased somewhat after the 3-2 win over Kyrgyzstan in the second round, but the backline appeared vulnerable with the woodwork denying the Central Asians on three occasions.
South Korea vs Qatar
Another fancied team that has yet to move into top gear despite four wins out of four, South Korea had to work hard to get past Bahrain 2-1 after extra time.
Without injured captain and Newcastle United midfielder Ki Sung-yueng who has returned to England, the South Koreans have struggled to either create or convert chances.
Son Heung-min was peripheral and the Tottenham star is yet to score in the tournament. He should enjoy more space against Qatar on in Abu Dhabi tomorrow.
Along with Iran, Qatar has been the most impressive team in the tournament so far, winning all four games without conceding a goal. In Almoez Ali, the 2022 World Cup host also has the top scorer of the tournament so far with seven goals.