January 22 – The final two knockout games of the round of 16 games at the Asian Cup take place tonight in Dubai and Sharjah. Qatar face a buoyant Iraq, which Bahrain aim to spring another surprise against South Korea.
Neither Qatar or Iraq have conceded a goal to date in the competition. Both teams have come through intense ‘derby’ games with Iraq drawing with Iran 0-0, and Qatar beating Saudi Arabia 2-0.
Putting the emotion and the distraction of the geo-politics aside, the game tonight is about football, though national identity is never far from the agenda for both of these teams.
In Almoez Ali, (pictured) Qatar have the star goalscorer of the competition. He has netted seven of Qatar’s 10 goals. But although looking suspect to set pieces, the Qataris are solid in their defence.
Qatar head coach Felix Sanchez said: “We too didn’t concede a goal in the group stage but all that can change in an instance and we could be eliminated. This is something that we don’t want to happen and the players know that there must be full concentration.”
Iraqi coach Srecko Katanec is wary of Qatar’s ability to change their formation mid-game: “Qatar will be huge challenge as they are very adept in changing tactics and formations. My message to the players is that we must be quick to adjust to Qatar,”
“We have been taking it one match at a time and I have not pressured the players by saying we must win. The players, however, are determined to give their countrymen joy and we will give our best against Qatar.”
South Korea vs Bahrain
On paper Bahrain don’t look like having much of a chance against a South Korean team that has yet to conceded a goal in the competition and whose attacking play with the arrival of Son Hueung-min has taken on a different dimension.
Bahrain qualified as one of the best third-placed teams with a final minutes 1-0 win over India, shattering that nations dreams and perhaps even their football resurgence. Earlier in their group they had drawn with hosts UAE in the opening game. So they are capable of the unexpected.
Head coach Miroslav Soukup is confident as he feels his team can play without pressure and has had a long rest period to prepare. “We are giving ourselves motivation because nobody is pressuring us,” he said. “After our last game against India, we had six days to prepare our team, so we are not tired. I hope that we can repeat our performance against India, maybe the game will not be easy for Korea Republic and will be dramatic.”
So far Korea have steered clear of drama winning all their group games comfortably but they will be without midfielder Ki Sung-yueng. There is a growing expectation around the Koreans which coach Paulo Bento is keen to play down.
“We know that we are candidates but I think we are not the only favourites in this competition,” he said.
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