Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 September 2019

Asian Cup: Semi-finals lowdown as four remaining teams plot course to title

Tournament hosts UAE are still in the hunt and are joined in the final four by Japan, Qatar and Iran

Japan

Route to semi-final: Survived a scare in their Group F opener against underdogs Turkmenistan to eventually prevail 3-2, then required a Genki Haraguchi penalty to get past an obdurate Oman before a battling 2-1 victory against Uzbekistan saw them advance as group winners. A sturdy defensive display against Saudi Arabia in the last 16 secured a fourth successive one-goal victory – a run that continued against Vietnam in the quarter-finals once Ritsu Doan’s second-half penalty clinched a semi-final berth. Yet to truly convince.

Manager: Hajime Moriyasu – assistant to Akira Nishino before and at the 2018 World Cup before being promoted. Has had to deal with a host of injuries to key players, but has displayed tactical acumen throughout tournament.

Star man: Takehiro Tomiyasu – plying his trade in Belgium with Sint-Truiden, the centre-back's reputation continues to rise with some accomplished performances. Aged 20, he is one of Asia’s best defenders.

What wins it: Moriyasu’s tactical flexibility, despite a team in transition that lacks an elite striker. Technically proficient and, as the tournament’s only four-time winners, have pedigree.

Iran

Route to semi-final: Pre-tournament favourites, they began with a 5-0 victory against Yemen before defeating Vietnam 2-0 and then drawing with rivals Iraq in the group decider. The point was enough to secure top spot. Saw off Oman 2-0 in the last 16 thanks to two first-half goals, before providing arguably the tournament’s best performance, when they swept aside Marcello Lippi’s woeful China 3-0 in the quarters. Yet to concede a goal through five matches.

Manager: Carlos Queiroz – the highly respected Portuguese coach has been in charge since 2011, despite repeated clashes with his superiors and threats to stand down. Has allied a strong defence with stellar attacking talent.

Star man: Sardar Azmoun – the Rubin Kazan striker announced his international retirement following criticism surrounding a poor 2018 World Cup, but returned in October. Has four goals in this tournament.

What wins it: Delivering on their obvious prowess. Defensively sound, physically strong and disciplined, with a dangerous attack. Three-time winners, although last lifted trophy in 1976.

UAE

Route to semi-final: Opened the tournament with a draw against Bahrain, but went on to top Group A following a fortunate 2-0 win against India and a draw with Thailand. Were made to sweat against debutants Kyrgyzstan in the last 16, needing an extra-time penalty from Ahmed Khalil to scrape through 3-2. Improved greatly in the 1-0 victory in the quarter-final against defending champions Australia, nicking the match through Ali Mabkhout’s 68th-minute winner. A second successive semi-final appearance.

Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni – much-maligned throughout his 15-month reign and during the tournament's first four matches, but has earned plaudits for the display against Australia. Guided Japan to 2011 Asian Cup success.

Star man: Ali Mabkhout – not been the best tournament overall for the 2015 Golden Boot winner, but still has four goals in five matches. Strike against Australia sealed the UAE’s semi-final spot.

What wins it: Another gargantuan defensive display, with the endeavour and spirit shown in the semi-final. Surviving mounting injury list. Home support could prove key as well.

Qatar

Route to semi-final: Built upon opening 2-0 victory against Lebanon with a resounding 6-0 triumph against North Korea, which remains the greatest winning margin thus far this tournament. Clinched top spot in Group D by getting past Saudi Arabia 2-0 in Abu Dhabi, before a narrow 1-0 victory in the last 16 against Iraq set up a quarter-final clash with South Korea. Defeated the two-time champions 1-0, meaning they have yet to concede a goal in five matches.

Manager: Felix Sanchez – the Spaniard has been based in Qatar for more than a decade, coaching at various age-group levels. Appointed to senior team in July 2017 and has put together a well-drilled side.

Star man: Almoez Ali – difficult to look past the tournament’s top scorer, although four of his seven goals came against North Korea and he has yet to find the net in the knockouts. A fast-developing forward, though.

What wins it: Maintain their defensive shape, ride momentum from their somewhat surprising run to the semis, and Assim Madibo and Abdelkarim Hassan in particular continue to excel.

Updated: January 27, 2019 05:17 PM

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