The AFC Asian Cup is now well underway, as every nation participating has now played their opening match. We have already seen quite some drama, which included surprises, walk-overs, late goals and, own goals.
Did you know the AFC has their own Youtube channel, on which you can see the highlights of the matches? Don't worry they will be in this round-up as well.
I'm not going to write detailed match summaries, but I will aim to mention the highlights of the highlights, some fun facts, a photo here and there, plus the video with the highlights of course.
United Arab Emirates vs. Bahrain (1-1)
The host nation, United Arab Emirates, had a tough opening match, against a team that showed a better performance than what most people had expected. The UAE looked very nervous, especially at the beginning of the match. I was watching it live last weekend and to be fair, expected it to end in a 0-0 draw at some point. In the 78th minute, however, Bahrain took a surprising lead when Mohamed Al Romaihi scored the first goal of the tournament. The ball seemed to have crossed the line already at his first attempt, but just to be sure, when the ball came back off a defender, he did it again. Just a couple of minutes before the end of the match the home nation got a controversial penalty, which gave Ahmed Khalil the chance to equalize in his 100th cap, which he did.
Australia vs. Jordan (0-1)
The first massive surprise came already on the second day, when probably the most likely team to lift the trophy, the defending champions, Australia, lost against Jordan. Not much had happened until Musa Al-Taamari took a corner kick, which he delivered perfectly well onto Anas Bani Yaseen's head. The experienced defender headed the ball past Matt Ryan. A minute later Jordan could have doubled the score, but Ryan managed to save it in such a way that the ball ended up on the crossbar. Australia searched the equalizer, coming close several times without finding the net. Well, they did once, but it was disallowed. There is no need to panic for Australia, as they should win the remaining two matches, later on, however the other two nations, Syria and Palestine will have a much tougher task to make it into the group stage then they did before this match.
Thailand vs. India (1-4)
Now this tournament looks like to become one of the surprises from the start. There would be not that many people who would have seriously thought India would be stronger than Thailand. They turned out to be the dominant side and secured an unexpectedly easy victory in the end. The first 30 minutes were however still pretty close. India took the lead from the penalty spot, and Thailand equalized from a nice header. In the second half India totally outplayed Thailand, scoring a few nice goals on the way. Sunil Chhetri converted the penalty and also scored India's second. The last goal by Jeje Lalpekhlua was a true beauty by the substitute who only stood two minutes on the pitch when he scored.
Syria vs. Palestine (0-0)
The first, and so far only scoreless draw of the tournament was the match between Syria and Palestine. Out of the two teams, Palestine would be the happiest with the point, as Syria created some big chances to score throughout the game. Some of these were greatly saved by Palestine goalkeeper Rami Hamadeh, whereas in other situations he completely seemed not to understand what goalkeeping is. Approximately 20 minutes before time Palestinian defender Mohammed Saleh received his second yellow card and had to leave the pitch.
China vs. Kyrgyzstan (2-1)
Kyrgyzstan took the lead in what was a boring first half. Just three minutes before half time Akhlidin Israilov picked up a header just outside of the penalty box and shot the ball past the goalkeeper. The player is currently unattached, so any team still looking for a midfielder could sign him on a free transfer. Five minutes into the second half, Kyrgyz goalkeeper Pavel Matyash made a horrible mistake, as he could have easily caught the ball without any opponents nearby. He dropped the ball, however, and it ended up in his own net. Matyash is also unattached, but I don't think any team would like to contract him after seeing this. Further poor defending led to China's winning goal scored by substitute Yu Dabao twelve minutes before time. Kyrgyzstan wasn't able to respond after that and lost their opening match of the Asian Cup.
South Korea vs. Philippines (1-0)
South Korea was expected to trash the Philippines in their opening match, but that didn't quite happen. It was the Philippines who had the first big chance of the match, and they played really well, trying to keep up with South Korea, being led by Javier Patiño who played a great match. Deep into the second half, the pressure on the Filipino defense became too much, after which Hwang Ui-jo could score the only goal of the match. South Korea could then score a couple of more goals but goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard made some vital saves. The Philippines may be proud of themselves and can take this experience into the next games.
Iran vs. Yemen (5-0)
The first nation to really show what they are up to this tournament was Iran. They are one of the countries expected to go really far. They surely showed that they are far better than Yemen and completely outclassed them in a 5-0 win. However, I dare to say that if Saoud Al Sowadi would have been a better goalkeeper they would have scored a maximum of two goals in this match. Mehdi Taremi was the big man scoring two goals, as well as setting up Sardar Azmoun to score his goal.
Iraq vs. Vietnam (3-2)
One of the exciting matches to watch certainly was this clash between Iraq and Vietnam. Iraq has always been a good country but performs mostly in the shadow of the big guns in Asia. Vietnam is an upcoming nation and has done really well in the youth levels in recent years. Vietnam took the lead twice during this match but eventually had to settle with a 3-2 defeat. Ali Adnan scored the winning goal in the last minute of the match from a direct free kick. Vietnam will have to win against Yemen to have a chance to continue in this competition, as beating Iran seems to be a tough job. Iraq's opening goal was scored by 18-year-old talent Mohanad Ali, who has now seven goals in twelve caps, a pretty good record. I'm wondering when we will be able to see this guy in Europe.
Saudi Arabia vs. North Korea (4-0)
North Korea is doing really well in women's football, especially when it comes to the youth tournaments, but in men's football, they do not have the best generation at the moment. This was already visible in the preparation towards the AFC Cup, and Saudi Arabia showed that again. They totally dominated the match and took the lead when Hattan Bahebri sent a powerful shot into the goal after 28 minutes, scoring his first ever international goal. Also, Mohammed Al-Fatil managed to do that in this match, even though he did not seem to do that on purpose, as the ball deflected off him into the net.
Japan vs. Turkmenistan (3-2)
Turkmenistan surprised Japan in the opening phase of the match and took a deserved lead when Arslanmyrat Amanow scored a screamer. They took that lead into the dressing room at halftime. In the second half, we saw a different Japan. The technical skills of strikers Yuya Osaka and Ritsu Doan changed the score into a comfortable lead, 3-1. Turkmenistan then got a penalty eleven minutes before time to bring the excitement back into the game. They couldn't come closer than that though.
Uzbekistan vs. Oman (2-1)
A very exciting match between Uzbekistan and Oman with some beautiful goals. Odil Akhmedov opened the score from a direct free kick in the 34th minute. In the second half, Oman's manager Pim Verbeek brought in Muhsen Al Ghassani for Khalid Khalifa Al Hajri in the 67th minute. Five minutes later Al Ghassani equalized for Oman with a great finish after receiving a splendid pass from Ali Al Busaidi. It turned out to be the match of the quick scoring substitutes or even the tournament of the quick scoring substitutes, as also Eldor Shomurodov scored within three minutes after coming onto the pitch. Uzbekistan will have to play their next match without Yegor Krimets, as he received a direct red card in the 92nd minute.
Qatar vs. Lebanon (2-0)
Lebanon seemed to take an early lead against Qatar, but the goal was disallowed. It is still unclear to me why this was the case, but in the end, the goal did not stand. Other than that the game was fairly equal until Qatar got to take a direct free kick in the 65th minute. It was Bassam Al-Rawi who easily converted the free kick into a goal, his first ever for the national team. With eleven minutes to go, Almoez Ali doubled the lead for Qatar, securing their win. Lebanon has the right to feel robbed, but nobody knows if they would have managed a better result if they would have been up front in the first half.
The 2018 Scorum Sports Quiz is coming soon
Thank you for reading and watching.