January 19 – The first games of the AFC Asian Cup last 16 knockout rounds begin today with Jordan facing Vietnam, Thailand vs China and Iran against Oman.
The stats and the form so far would point to wins for Jordan, China and Iran.
Jordan have been the breakout team of the tournament so far, winning their first group game against Australia, the reigning champions and one of the favourites for the title. Their record against Vietnam is just two draws, the two teams only having played each other twice in qualification for this competition.
Vietnam have so far played a high tempo game counterattack game to compensate for lack of height and weight in key areas. The speed of this counterattack play will likely be key to unlocking Jordan.
China will expected to beat Thailand who qualified as one of the best third placed finishers.
The Chinese were taken apart by South Korea in their last group, looking disorganised in defence and unable to retain the ball effectively to amount aby form of meaningful attack. It was a poor performance from coach Marcello Lippi’s team, though he had rested star Wu Lei amongst others.
Even so, the Thais have improved as the competition as progressed and if China are to progress, Lippi will need to find a shape and understanding with his players that has been visibly missing so far.
Iran versus Oman is perhaps the most intriguing match-up of the first day of last 16 play-offs.
Iran impressed in their first two games but a fractious encounter with Iraq ended in a scoreless draw. Up to that point Iran had played themselves into being the tournament favourites. They will need to find their composure on the pitch and on the bench again if they are to fulfil their potential.
Oman are a challenging opponent. Physically strong, they will offer a very different challenge to Iraq and have behind them a set of supporters that any player would be prepared to give 200% for. If the Omanis can keep Iran from scoring in the first 60 minutes then an upset could be on the cards as the Iranians and their coach Carlos Queiroz become frustrated.
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