Syria go into their second Group B fixture in the Asian Cup on Thursday in desperate need of a win. Bernd Stange’s side were left frustrated by a valiant Palestine display in their goalless opener but beating Jordan is in no way a foregone conclusion.
The Jordanians pulled off what might go down as the upset of the tournament when they defending champions Australia 1-0 on Sunday.
JORDAN ON A HIGH
Just how big a result Jordan’s win over Australia was cannot be emphasised enough. Beating the Asian Cup holders in their opening match was as shocking as it was impressive. Yes, they endured long spells without the ball – Australia had 70 per cent of possession in the first half – but did well to restrict the number of clear-cut chances afforded to the Socceroos.
Notably, they closed down the Aussies in midfield with real tenacity and always offered a threat on the break. Head coach Vital Borkelmans will hope their sky-high confidence helps them replicate that performance when they face Syria.
SYRIAN STARS MUST STRIKE
Syria boast a formidable front pair in strikers Omar Khrbin and Omar Al Soma but neither could find the target against an inferior Palestine side who for the final 22 minutes were down to 10 men following Mohammed Saleh’s dismissal. The duo are among the most threatening forward pairings in Asia but captain Al Soma – three-time winner of the Saudi Professional League Golden Boot – had a day to forget in their Group B opener.
The Al Ahli striker cut a frustrated figure as he was often crowded out in the final third. Khrbin on the other hand sprung into life in patches and was at the centre of his side’s best opportunities but ultimately couldn’t find the target. Syria need to get their star strikers firing against Jordan.
Al MAWAS BOOST
Given that Jordan will look to emulate Palestine’s defensive lowblock and frustrate Syria’s attackers, Stange will be hoping to welcome back the creative input of Mahmoud Al Mawas. The Umm Salal winger was serving out his suspension from competitive games during the opening fixture after being sent off in the final World Cup playoff game against Australia.
He was issued a second yellow for a challenge on Matt Leckie as the Aussies won 2-1 in extra-time and 3-2 on aggregate. Al Mawas starts on the right flank but regularly tucks inside, dropping into pockets of space in the final third from where he can affect the attack. His inclusion would lend support to Khrbin and elevate Syria’s link-up play in and around the area. With Osama Omari likely to be sidelined after being injured against Palestine, Al Mawas’ inclusion is even more crucial.
Yuya Osako netted a quickfire double as former champions Japan were given a fright against Turkmenistan before winning their Asian Cup curtain-raiser in Abu Dhabi.
Turkmenistan captain Arslan Amanov got the underdogs off to a fine start, but Osako’s neat finish and tap-in swiftly got Japan back on track.
Groningen winger Ritsu Doan gave Japan some breathing space with a deflected effort in the 70th minute, but the underdogs clawed one back through Ahmet Atayev’s penalty.
Counting the number of chances Osako missed in this game is a futile exercise. You may as well tally up the grains of sand on Jumeirah Beach.
The tip of the spear in Japan’s 4-2-3-1, the Werder Bremen striker was decidedly blunt. In the first half alone Osaka skewed a left-footed effort laughably wide, applied helium to a free header that sailed far over the bar and one powderpuff long-range pop was palmed away.
The speedy goals touched up his display no end, the dummy to create space for his first was exquisite, but recency bias shouldn’t sugarcoat a problem area for Japan.
Genki Haraguchi and the extremely promising Doan are two of the biggest threats off the wing in this tournament, but Osako makes for a pretty soft centre forward.
Prior to this game he’d crawled to 10 goals from 37 caps and given the World Cup second-round entrants are the toast of Asia, that’s a pretty poor record. It could bite Japan later in the competition.
Keep this in mind
Not to keep raining on Japan’s parade, they wouldn’t be throwing one after a fairly unconvincing win over Turkmenistan anyway, but their goalkeeping problems have just got even cloudier.
The Samurai Blue moved on from the error-prone Eiji Kawashima after the World Cup and, on this evidence, Shuichi Gonda has a penchant for a mistake or two as well.
Firstly it has to be said the Japanese defence showed a lack of respect to Emeralds skipper Amanov, affording him swathes of space to unload. However, his well-struck shot should have merely stung Gonda’s palms. Instead it went through them.
The Portugal-bound stopper – he recently signed for Portimonense – also did himself a disservice by sprawling at the feet of Altymyrat Annadurdyyew, but nowhere near the ball, for the penalty.
Gonda had been in a battle with Gamba Osaka’s Masaaki Higashiguchi for the gloves – it could be a short-lived one ahead of Oman on Sunday.
Almost half the Turkmen squad is drawn from the country’s league champions Altyn Asyr and it showed in a performance short on quality, but brimming with effort and organisation.
Their physicality got the better of the Japanese at times and, while their opposite numbers had a fistful of opportunities, they took advantage of the mounting frustration.
Annadurdyyew offered a little more attacking impetus when he arrived in the second half, winning a penalty, and he should be in contention to start against their next Group F opponents – Uzbekistan.
Srecko Katanec admits he made mistakes in Iraq’s dramatic 3-2 win over Vietnam on Tuesday as the Middle East side opened their 2019 Asian Cup campaign.
A very late Ali Adnan free-kick inflicted a 3-2 defeat on Vietnam at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
Vietnam went into the tournament with an enviable record of not losing 18 international matches on the trot – a run which stretched back to 2017 and was the longest active unbeaten streak in international football.
An Ali Faez Atiyah own goal gave Vietnam the lead in Abu Dhabi, but 18-year-old Mohanad Ali, the tournament’s youngest player, equalised 11 minutes later.
Nguyen Cong Phuong put the Golden Dragons 2-1 up at the break, but Iraq came back again after the break with Humam Tariq levelling on the hour before Adnan’s stoppage time free-kick.
“I know that we will be growing up during the tournament, so I hope that the second game we will be better,” said Iraq’s Slovenian coach Katanec.
Watch what he had to say in full here.