Biggest-ever AFC Asian Cup opens with spectacular showpiece

Opening1

Abu Dhabi: The AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 kicked off in style today with a grand opening ceremony at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital.

Against the backdrop of a packed stadium and hundreds of millions around the world, football fans were treated to a breathtaking live show with a series of on-pitch music performances in a fitting tribute to the excellence of Asian football and the vibrant spirit, colour and atmosphere of the host nation.

Internationally renowned singing sensations from the UAE, Hussain Al Jassmi, Balqees Ahmed Fathi and Eida Al Menhali were the ceremony’s main stars, which set the perfect stage for the tournament’s opener between the hosts UAE and Bahrain.

Titled “Zanaha Zayed,” the opening ceremony’s theme song was written by Arif Al Khaja and composed by Khalid Nasser.

As many as 600 expert performers from the UAE and around the world participated in the live extravaganza including drummers, Ayalla dancers and origami falcons – all of whom created a series of mesmerising mass choreography formations for over 13 magical minutes.

Leading to the highly-anticipated kick-off, the show depicted the story of the tournament’s mascot, Mansour, an Emirati boy inspired by the beauty of the flight of falcons. Moved by their gracious movements, Mansour extended a warm Emirati welcome to Asia and the rest of the world.

Produced by those behind the successful opening ceremonies of the UEFA Champions League finals since 2014, the UEFA European Championships 2016 and several CAF African Cup of Nations, the opening ceremony also featured incredible giant falcons, over-sized lotus petals and a huge replica of the new AFC Asian Cup trophy.

 

Source : AFC Asian Football Confederation Website

Football Federation Australia’s task now to leverage Asian Cup success and build for future

February 6, 2015

Michael Lynch

Senior sports reporter with The Age

Just the start: Momentum is building in junior ranks since the Socceroos' success.

Just the start: Momentum is building in junior ranks since the Socceroos’ success. Photo: Brendan Esposito

With the Asian Cup under lock and key for at least four years and the celebrations done and dusted, the FFA must move sharply to capitalise on the benefits of a tournament that generated huge interest on the eastern seaboard as the Socceroos built momentum and finally took the title in their nail-biting win over South Korea last Saturday.

Newspapers on Sunday and Monday were full of images and pictures from the final and the tournament as a whole, with Tim Cahill and his colleagues front and back-page leads despite Serena Williams seeing off Maria Sharapova in the women’s singles final at the Australian Open and Novak Djokovic doing the same to Andy Murray in the men’s.

Even soft segments on the television news early in the week were focusing on soccer, with camera crews dispatched to signing-up sessions for junior clubs as parents and officials reported a surge of interest inspired by Cahill and new man of the moment, Massimo Luongo.

Of course the behemoths that are the traditional footy codes (Australian rules in the south, rugby league in the north) will soon crank into gear with pre-season friendlies and  controversies, confected or otherwise, designed to dominate the news agenda in the run-up to the kick-off in late March.

But soccer leaders, who regularly predict huge growth and development on the back of good results by the Socceroos, must ensure that this time the opportunities and goodwill the Asian Cup generated are exploited.

The Asian Cup certainly felt different. Usually there is a surge in interest in the national team during the World Cup every four years, or when Australia play a must-win qualifier at home.

This time round, the tournament was a slow burner, picking up fans and increased coverage as the weeks went by and the players and teams became more familiar, establishing their identities match by match.

Hindsight is, of course, always 20-20, but those who predicted the event might be something of a lemon can be forgiven for feeling a sour taste in their mouths.

And the decision, much debated in this newspaper and especially on our digital platforms after my column, regarding Melbourne’s failure to even bid for a semi-final, looks particularly wrong-headed given the large crowds that packed into AAMI Stadium for games that, on paper, might have looked to have little to recommend them.

Japan v Jordan was few people’s idea of a blockbuster, but the Blue Samurai and their Middle Eastern opponents managed to draw 25,000 through the gates on a midweek night. Earlier, on a Sunday evening, Bahrain and Iran pulled more than 17,000 in Melbourne in the tournament’s opening weekend – before the momentum had even begun to build.

Australia is a nation built on immigration, but clearly no one really expected the groundswell of support that the diaspora communities from places such as Iran, Iraq and, in particular, China, Japan and South Korea, would bring.

Having shown their commitment to their national teams and the game – and enhanced the atmosphere at matches enormously – the FFA has to tap into that spectator interest and turn it into regular fans and supporters.

The A-League clubs have a ready-made contact point to try to leverage that interest. The local organising committee of the Asian Cup set up a series of community liaison or ambassador programs aimed at harnessing support from disparate migrant communities for the tournament. These groups could now be tapped into by A-League clubs seeking to broaden their fan base.

The success of the competition will help the game’s governing body in its negotiations with governments over stadium and revenue  deals for Socceroos matches in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

The national team under Ange Postecoglou is probably the hottest Australian brand right now, although the cricketers could change that if they win the World Cup and the Wallabies strike a blow for their code if they take out the Rugby World Cup this year.

Even if they are drawn to play minnows in the opening Asian qualifying phase for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, they will still generate huge popular support and those are the sort of games that the governing body are considering playing in regional centres and cities like Adelaide and Perth (which missed out on the Asian Cup because their governments did not want to invest in matches there).

More broadly, the Asian Cup’s legacy can be off the field as much as on it.

If the popularity of the competition convinced the decision-makers that soccer is, after all, a mainstream sport and deserving of the same level of investment and support by government bodies as AFL or the rugby codes, then it will have done its job.

It should have also shown the corporate sector that the best way to engage with developing Asian economies to the north through sport is via soccer: it is the game that links the entrepreneur in Hong Kong with the technocrat in Japan, the trader in China or the craft worker in Vietnam.

On field, the popularity of the teams and the players from Asia should help local fans, who hitherto have sometimes been a bit snooty about the standards of Asian soccer, become more aware of the quality of the region’s players and teams.

The Asian Champions League has been a slow burner in this country, and sometimes crowds for ACL games have left plenty to be desired. Western Sydney Wanderers’ win in the final over Al Hilal gave the competition a big boost in Australia, and this Asian Cup triumph, although for national teams rather than club sides, should further reinforce ties with the Asian game – despite the disgruntlement felt by a few aggrieved Gulf nations, unhappy at Australia’s recent success.

 

Source : The Canberra Times

Ivan Franjic and Robbie Kruse don’t mind paying injury price as Australia wins Asian Cup

February 1, 2015 – 8:46PM

Sebastian Hassett

Football reporter

Robbie Kruse is congratulated by coach Ange Postecoglou.

Robbie Kruse is congratulated by coach Ange Postecoglou. Photo: Getty Images

Socceroos right-sided duo Ivan Franjic and Robbie Kruse suffered serious injuries in Australia’s Asian Cup triumph over South Korea but the pair believe their sacrifice was well worth the price of success.

Franjic went into the game with a hip injury that would have ordinarily kept him out of playing, exacerbating the injury by pushing through the majority of the match before having to be substituted midway through the second half.

Kruse was widely speculated to have torn his achilles tendon – an injury that can take up to a year to recover from – but was cautiously cleared of that injury by the squad’s medical department on the day after the match. It’s believed the Bayer Leverkusen winger still may have suffered tendon damage in his ankle, however, which could result in him missing several weeks and possibly months of football.

For Franjic, the pain of what he went through in the final was ultimately all worth while when the whistle blew at the end of extra-time. “After Newcastle I have to be honest and say I didn’t think I would make the final team at all,” he said. “But give credit to the physios, especially Les Gelis, they really worked me overtime in the physio room to get me out there. It [the injury] is probably a lot worse now but it’s all worth it.”

The Socceroos players and coaches covertly avoided the extent of Franjic’s original injury, talking up his chances of playing in the final, even though the player himself privately realised he was in significant trouble. “I thought I definitely tore it or something. Lucky for me, we took a scan of it and it didn’t show much,” he said. “It gave me a fighting chance to get out there. I wasn’t at 100 per cent, but like Ange said, who is at 100 per cent after playing six games? I just had to battle through it and I gave it all I could.”

However, Franjic said it became apparent during the second half that he would need to come off, with Mark Milligan taking his spot at right-back while Matt McKay pushed into the midfield. “Obviously I just overstretched when I ran down the line [to make a tackle],” he said. “I felt it then and I knew it it was time to come off.”

Asked how bad the injury had become, Franjic revealed he’d made it much worse but that he’d get an extended break before his league duties with Torpedo Moscow resumed. “I think so – and it’s probably for the best that I don’t know at this stage,” he said. “I think I’ll definitely be out for a couple of weeks but obviously I’ll head back to Russia now and the season doesn’t start for another month so I’ve got a bit of time to get out there.”

The 27-year old saw his World Cup dream broken in the first half of the first match against Chile when he was struck down by injury but he was determined to use that as motivation to push through no matter what happened at this tournament.

“It was devastating what happened at the World Cup but everything happens for a reason,” he said. “That injury happened for a reason – so I could lift this trophy now. I knew the Asian Cup was around the corner so I worked hard to get back out there.”

Franjic said it was an unforgettable moment when the team was able to make their way back into the dressing room for a post-match private celebration. “There was a bit of singing, there was champagne bottles. It was an unbelievable experience,” he said. “People don’t know the sacrifices we make and the training schedules we go through. It’s the little one-two percenters that can get you an advantage on the other teams. Everyone sacrificed a lot and we got the reward in the end, one that we deserved.”

The defender paid tribute to national team boss Ange Postecoglou, who gave Franjic his big break at Brisbane Roar and has showed increased faith in him for the national team. “He knew when he first came into the job it was going to take a bit of time. I’m sure he set his sights on the Asian Cup, holding this trophy up and he’s done it,” Franjic said, adding the boss showed great composure when Korea scored to force the match to extra time. “Ange said to us: “This situation might have happened, it might not have – but it’s here now, we’re fitter, stronger and we know we can win it from here.”

 

Source : The Canberra Times

Socceroos celebrate Asian Cup win in Sydney

February 1, 2015 – 12:52PM

Patrick Begley

Journalist

Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou admits he might need to be reintroduced to his infant son after an all-consuming Asian Cup campaign.

But first Postecoglou and his team had another meeting.

Snap happy: Tim Cahill with fans at Martin Place on Sunday morning.

Snap happy: Tim Cahill with fans at Martin Place on Sunday morning. Photo: James Alcock

Hundreds of green and gold fans thronged to Pitt Street Mall on Sunday morning to celebrate the national side’s 2-1 victory over South Korea.

Carrying footballs ranging from the miniature size to the regulation, they came for autographs, selfies and a chance to see talisman Tim Cahill in the flesh.

“We wanted to see our heroes,” said one fan, John Mamaloukis. A Greek migrant, Mr Mamaloukis said he had waited 50 years for football to gain such prestige in Australia.

Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak helps fans capture the moment.

Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak helps fans capture the moment. Photo: James Alcock

One of the men responsible for that elevation, Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy, said the triumph was “wonderful, wonderful, wonderful”.

“I think [the victory] is going to lift the game to another level again,” he said.

“The game took your heart out in the middle – but then you got it back.”

"Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful": Frank Lowy with sports presenter Adam Peacock.

“Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful”: Frank Lowy with sports presenter Adam Peacock. Photo: James Alcock

Tim Cahill said the win was “priceless”.

“It’s definitely up there for me.”

For Postecoglou: “Last night was great not just for our game but for our country, and that’s ultimately what we do – represent our country”.

Sign of the times: "Talisman" Tim Cahill autographs Socceroos merchandise.

Sign of the times: “Talisman” Tim Cahill autographs Socceroos merchandise. Photo: James Alcock

Just in case anyone needed reminding, one fan, Justin Pineda, carried a tablet bearing the message: “#Kings of Asia”.

“Last night was probably the best night of my life,” said Mr Pineda, who had yet to get to bed.

But the night came so close to ending in disaster for Australia.

Kate Ljubic was at ANZ stadium to witness the shock when South Korea equalised in what would have been the dying seconds of the game.

“Men, women and children – we were all just crying,” Ms Ljubic said.

Some fans carried “Luckie Number 7” and “Long Live Luongo” signs.

But Cahill was an uncontroversial choice of favourite player.

“We were shaking when he was coming over,” said Aliyah Baiti, 12, after having her football signed.

“We were thinking, ‘what should we do, we don’t want to stuff it up’.”

 

Source : The Canberra Times

Asian Cup success just the tip of the iceberg

January 31, 2015 – 2:42PM

Craig Foster

Football columnist

Good show: Iraq fans show their support during the Asian Cup.

Good show: Iraq fans show their support during the Asian Cup. Photo: Matt Bedford

The organisation, feeling of goodwill towards every team and Aussie openness created an Asian Cup of exceptional quality that will be long admired all across Asia.

Take whichever metric you like. Crowds, social media, broadcast numbers across the region, quality of play. If we do say so ourselves, this tournament will be very hard to beat.

Kudos to the organising committee led by Michael Brown, his staff, volunteers and everyone who contributed. Job very well done guys.

A successful off-field outcome was important because we want to host many more such tournaments, including the World Youth Cup as we did twice before in 1981 and 1993, and Under-17s, male and female.

The women’s World Cup will be open to bids for 2023 and possibly the 2018 Women’s Asian Cup, as well of course as youth tournaments, and football needed to demonstrate to the Australian public and governments, the impact these events can have.

This was well and truly achieved. Socially, promotionally, diplomatically and competitively, a stunning success.

And no, I can’t resist making the point that if the cup was a “lemon” as Eddie McGuire – AFL chief of foot in mouthism – predicted, there is certainly plenty of lemonade to go around.

Australia is perfectly primed for external support of other nations within Asia or other confederations, and internally, to accelerate the rate of hosting football events, and the whole country is the winner.

We also showed why we would have been a wonderful World Cup host in 2022, but no use crying over spilt milk.

There was some talk about grumbles among AFC member nations about Australia’s membership.

We’ve heard this before and not surprisingly because we are now monopolising one of the four guaranteed World Cup spots. The challenge to Middle East nations is to improve, but it is not easy with populations sizes and other factors.

One thing that would solve the problem and create plenty for all is an Asian Super League. This is also one lesson from the Asian Cup – to see the Socceroos grow through regular, intense competition shows how far they could go if this was the norm, not the quadrennial exception.

I would like to see Australia advocate a region-wide league in which quasi-national teams could play, with additional high-quality imports from the top European level. This is how Asian football can bridge what is still a considerable gap.

Bear in mind that no Asian team has progressed past the semi-finals of the World Cup and last year none made it out of the group stage.

We must help each other to raise standards across the continent, otherwise our only option is to send more and more players abroad to compete at the top level.

Middle Eastern money has financed Manchester City, PSG in France and other clubs with billions of dollars. This money applied to a new league in Asia would completely change the destiny of every country within the region.

We could keep the lion’s share of the team together to play year round, and better minds than mine will tell you the broadcast rights alone would fund the world’s top players to improve the level. Asia would leap ahead of the US, or China more narrowly, as the destination of choice outside the Champions League contenders.

It might be worthwhile raising the concept with Prince Ali of Jordan, a rival to Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency, because Jordan would benefit immensely from this type of quality competition.

Why is this needed? Because of the journey we’re on.

The continental championship is the third of seven steps we aim to make. A fantastic showpiece, a great achievement, but purely another step on the ladder.

First was World Cup qualification in 1974, then getting out of the group in 2006, competing for and winning the Asian Cup, followed by Word Cup quarters, semis, final and ultimately becoming world champion.

Seven steps to heaven, each much more difficult than the last.

The same applies to the Matildas, who had already won the continental championship and are searching for a World Cup semi-final.

Step by step, our football will improve, we’ll face greater challenges, learn from every level and eventually we will win.

Who knows? After this wonderful month and a few more tournaments, we might one day get to win it all at home.

Now, that’s a dream we will never let go.

 

Source : The Canberra Times

Player of the Asian Cup, Massimo Luongo, says all he needed was the right environment to shine

February 1, 2015 – 1:46AM

Dominic Bossi

Sports reporter

Massimo Luongo says he has always been the style of player that lit up the 2015 Asian Cup but required the right team environment to feel comfortable enough to shine.

ln the eyes of the Australian public, the 22-year-old midfielder has been the hidden secret of Australian football having only appeared in the national team last year and playing each week out of sight in the third tier of English football. On Saturday night, he was crowned the best player of the 2015 Asian Cup after his starring role in Australia’s triumph on home soil where he scored a spectacular long range goal to open their 2-1 win over South Korea.

A hard worker in defence, a constant threat in attack and not scared to attempt the spectacular – Luongo says these aren’t attributes that developed in the last month with the national team. Rather, they have been part of his skill set for many years but require a comfortable environment to apply them in games and that is just what Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos side has done.

Relaxed: Australia's Massimo Luongo (front) takes a selfie with his teammates.

Relaxed: Australia’s Massimo Luongo (front) takes a selfie with his teammates. Photo: Reuters

“I think it’s brought out a lot in the game that was hiding especially in international level,” Luongo said. “I think if anything it’s just shown everyone what type of player I am. In the right type of team I’m not shy and this tournament I’ve been in the right team.”

The Swindon midfielder is sure to attract the interest of clubs in higher tiers of European football. South Korean captain and Swansea City star Ki Sung-yueng was surprised to find out the star of the tournament is languishing in the lower leagues  but the likely arrival of offers from above is not something that phases Australia’s new hero.

“If I keep performing well at any level then that will take care of itself and right now, I’m enjoying this moment and in four days time I will be back in Swindon,” Luongo said.

Socceroos fans

Asian Cup Final – Australia v Korea

Pictures from the Asian Cup Final between Australia and the South Korea. Photo: Darren Pateman

His superb goal on the stroke of half-time rattled South Korea as it came against the run of play and Luongo revealed his intent after receiving the ball so far from goal was always to shoot.

“It was a great ball from Trent [Sainsbury]. I was just hovering in the pocket and it was nice, the ball was nice, and my first touch opened up straight away. It looked like I was running at the centre backs but all that I had in my mind was to shoot,” Luongo said.

 

Source : The Canberra Times

Don’t forget the Matildas’ Asian Cup success

January 28, 2015 – 6:31PM

Dominic Bossi

Sports reporter

The public is brimming with excitement after the Socceroos gained another chance to win their first piece of silverware since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006. But it seems many are forgetting that this team is not entering unchartered territory. Should they beat South Korea on Saturday night at Stadium Australia, Ange Postecoglou’s team will be following in the footsteps of the women’s 2010 side which were pioneers in becoming the first Australian champions of Asia.

Certain pundits were quick to celebrate Australia’s semi-final victory over UAE by praising the 2015 Socceroos as the first potential Asian champions from Australia, forgetting heroics of their female compatriots five years before.

The Matildas also had to overcome a team from the Korean peninsula in the final, beating North Korea in a dramatic penalty shoot-out where an 18-year-old Kyah Simon sealed the winning spot kick.

Magic Matildas: Australian captain Melissa Barbieri with the Asian Cup in 2010.

Magic Matildas: Australian captain Melissa Barbieri with the Asian Cup in 2010.

Tennis steals the big TV audience

The Asian Cup organisers could not have been any more unlucky with the scheduling of the Socceroos’ semi-final clash that was pitted against the Australian Open quarter-final between Nick Kyrgios and Andy Murray. More than 1 million viewers tuned in to watch Australia defeat the UAE, as 730,000 watched ABC’s live coverage while Fox Sports claimed an audience of 362,000 viewers. While impressive figures, those were dwarfed by Channel 7’s coverage of the Australian Open, which drew an average audience of 2.5 million for Murray’s win over Kyrgios and a peak audience of 3.5 million. It was the most watched match of the tournament this far. Australia plays South Korea in the final of the Asian Cup, which will clash with the women’s final of the Australian Open.

Don’t mention the referees

The confederation organising the tournament began clamping down on the press this week, with journalists barred from asking questions about the standard of refereeing. Following Iraq’s loss to South Korea in Monday’s semi-final, an AFC press officer butted in when a journalist asked Iraq’s coach Radhi Shenaishel whether he was pleased with the standard of officiating. The press officer cut off the journalist and said there would be no questions regarding officials following earlier outbursts such as from Iran coach Carlos Quiroz against Australian referee Ben Williams.

Tickets going like hotcakes

ANZ Stadium won’t come close to setting an attendance record for the venue with temporary seating arrangements reducing the capacity slightly. Media tribunes in place and AFC restrictions on seats  around the players tunnel will limit the seats available, while the inclusion of covered benches will restrict the view from a small number of seats. Fans rushed to buy tickets immediately following the Socceroos’ win over the UAE with 10,000 sold in the first two hours after the match. It is unlikely any non-single tickets or even tickets without restricted views will be on sale as of Thursday morning should sales continue at the same pace. A crowd of over 80,000 is expected but depending on the attendance of AFC corporate guests, will fall short of reaching the full capacity of the venue.

 

Source : The Canberra Times

For the Socceroos and the Asian Cup, the best is yet to come

January 24, 2015

Craig Foster

Football columnist

On target: Tim Cahill is congratulated on scoring against China.

On target: Tim Cahill is congratulated on scoring against China. Photo: Getty Images

Does anyone want to argue the Asian Cup has not been a magnificent experience for Australia and is not money well spent by the federal and state governments?

Fabulous promotion to Asian audiences, outstanding crowds with amazing diversity and an overwhelming feeling of friendship between people who are often mortal enemies in their home countries, a sense of excitement and joy at every match, and a brilliant tournament to boot.

The semi finals will be watched by hundreds of millions of people who will see the colour and passion of the fans and the freedom and openness of Australian life.

We can all be very proud of the tournament that has been presented, and kudos to FFA for the vision, governments for understanding the value, organisers for an outstanding job and the fans for turning out.

It’s been one hell of a party. And it’s only going to get better from an Aussie perspective.

So far, the Socceroos’ journey has been near flawless. More than this, it’s been thrilling, which is what we most hoped for.

Recently, I wrote in the midst of poor results and some rising angst that the results were of absolutely no consequence and that Ange Postecoglou should continue on the journey – a road trip so to speak – and would, hopefully, arrive at a beautiful place this month.

Well, we may not be sipping pina coladas in Waikiki yet, but we’re certainly by the pool in Fiji with a cold one in hand, the kids in the pool and palm trees swaying in the breeze.

The football has been excellent. How many times have we discussed down the years the need for Australia to go for it; to play according to our cultural approach to life?

Head-on, attacking, aggressive and with a tremendous spirit of togetherness.

Ange Postecoglou is now bringing this to life. It has been a delight to watch. I couldn’t be more pleased for him and the game because this is what Australia will support and the public has increasingly got on board the ride to the final.

I had Australia beating Japan anyway at this tournament, especially on home soil and with renewed confidence and dynamism, but the fact that the reigning champions stumbled paves the way for a fabulously exciting last week of the competition.

It also means the hiccup against Korea Republic should be less damaging, although it now looks likely the two teams will meet again in a week’s time.

Iraq’s triumph over Iran was an extraordinary contest, full of passion and controversy, but with extra time and penalties it will be very difficult for them to overcome a Korea Republic side with an additional day’s recovery. Nothing is, however, ever a given in football, as the Blue Samurai know too well.

UAE’s win over Japan on penalties showed why it is so important not to concede first in knockout games, as did Australia’s loss to Korea and, conversely, the win over China, where it was avoided.

Go ahead as a counter-attacking team and you hold all the aces. Go behind, and things can become very troublesome, as Japan found out to their detriment.

The draw is in Australia’s favour, as it should be, and with no apologies, given we have had suffered the opposite for so many decades. The team is rested, strong and growing together in understanding.

The tournament has captured imaginations right across the most populous region of the world. One of our main rivals is gone. And on Tuesday it’s all aboard for the next stage of the trip, destination ANZ Stadium, January 31.

It may not be Hawaii, but could well prove the destination of a lifetime.

 

Source : The Canberra Times

Asian Cup: Honda-powered Japan cruise past Jordan into quarter-finals

January 21, 2015 – 12:39AM

Michael Lynch

Senior sports reporter with The Age

Japan 2 Jordan 0

Jordan's Monther Abu Amara and JapanÂ?s Keisuke Honda compete for the ball during the Asia Cup match on Tuesday.

Jordan’s Monther Abu Amara and Japan’s Keisuke Honda compete for the ball during the Asian Cup match on Tuesday. Photo: AP

Japan coach Javier Aguirre was true to his word and played his stars in their final Group D game against Jordan, determined to maintain his team’s 100 per cent Asian Cup record.

They did, seeing off the challenge of the plucky Jordanians 2-0 through a first-half goal from AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda and a second by former Manchester United mifielder Shinji Kagawa at  AAMI Park on Tuesday night.

The result was never in doubt, but after dominating the first half the reigning champions were occasionally given something to think about during the second period by a Jordan side that lifted its work-rate and effort and tried to create something for itself as it battled to defy the odds.

Shinji Kagawa (left) gets Japan's second goal with eight minutes left in the game.Shinji Kagawa (left) gets Japan’s second goal with eight minutes left in the game. Photo: Reuters

The Blue Samurai easily had the better of the opening exchanges as they cranked up the pressure and the Jordanians sat deep in a bid to frustrate them.

Japan looked as though they had taken the lead after 10 minutes when striker Takashi Inui lashed home a fierce first-time shot from a Kagawa cross, only for Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov to rule it out, the ball having fractionally gone out of play before Kagawa sent his delivery over.

It was only postponing the inevitable, however. A drive by Masato Morishige was well blocked by Anas Bani Yaseen while goalkeeper Amer Shafi kept out Keisuke Honda’s optimistic long-range free-kick.

Japan got their noses in front in the 24th minute and it was Honda who was the man on the spot to slide the ball home from close range after Shafi had palmed out Shinji Okazaki’s shot.

Jordan was stuggling to get the ball into any threatening areas. Hamza Al Dardour, who had made a name for himself in the 5-1 win over Palestine last Friday, could barely get on the ball as most of Jordan’s forward thrusts were snuffed out early by the Japanese midfielders or defence.

The youngster did get one run through, but his shot was deflected. At the other end Shafi made a tremendous save to deny Morishige’s header from a corrner while Okazaki went close as the half drew to a close with a strong run, and shot into the side netting.

Jordan began the second half in spirited fashion. With elimination looming they had nothing to lose.

Substitute Monther Abu Amara, who had come on at the interval, immediately made an impact, creating space for himself to fire in a shot that goalkeeper Eiji Kawashimi had to dive to save at the near post.

While the score stayed at 1-0, Jordan would always have given themselves a chance of pulling off a major shock but it was Japan who put the match to bed with eight minutes remaining, Shafi fumbling Kagawa’s shot after the midfielder had been set up by a cross from substitute Yoshinori Muto.

The gulf in class and quality was always too great for the men from the Middle East, and Japan now face the UAE in the quarter-finals.

 

Source : The Brisbane Times