South Korea will hope that Son Heung-min’s instant impact at Asian Cup 2019 will continue when they meet underdogs Bahrain in the round of 16.
Here are the talking points for Tuesday’s clash at Rashid Stadium:
Son’s shooting boots
In Son’s absence, 28 shots had generated 1-0 wins for Korea against the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan.
After only one day’s full training, he inspired Korea to double their tournament’s goal tally in the 2-0 win against China when Group C finished.
Son’s cutting edge shouldn’t be vital against Bahrain. They are ranked 60 places lower by FIFA in 113th.
Head coach Paulo Bento will, though, want to see signs that the late addition’s presence sparks an uplift from team-mates.
Holsten Kiel midfielder Lee Jae-sung should be pushing for a start now a toe knock has reportedly been overcome.
Soukup’s special plan
Bahrain have experienced mixed results to date when combating the tournament’s elite performers.
The lethal pair of Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Mabkhout were kept deathly quiet in the opening 1-1 draw against hosts the UAE. Thailand’s J1 League star Chanathip Songkrasin then got the only goal when they met Thailand.
In the pivotal last Group A meeting with India, head coach Miroslav Soukup threw on strikers from the bench and was rewarded with Jamal Rashid’s 91st-minute penalty.
Such boldness will not be witnessed in Dubai.
A likely 4-2-3-1 formation will be utilised to constrict space, with anchors Komail Al Aswad and Abdulwahab Al Safi keeping an eye on Son.
Only two goals have been conceded to date, meaning they could frustrate their celebrated opponents.
Who holds the Ki?
Experienced Newcastle midfielder Ki Sung-yeung has officially departed after only 58 minutes of action, courtesy of a hamstring knock.
This has seen Bento, regrettably, wave goodbye to a player with more than 100 caps.
Watch out for Hwang In-beom in his absence.
The 22-year-old plays in K League 2 with Daejeon Citizen, but he’s impressed in the UAE. Such is the enviable depth of South Korean football.
Boss Srecko Katanec has told his Iraq troops they’ll need to think on their feet to outwit Qatar in Tuesday’s round-of-16 meeting at Asian Cup 2019.
The Lions of Mesopotamia finished level with neighbours Iraq on seven points after an impressive Group D campaign. At Al Nahyan Stadium, they now meet Qatar, who secured a 100 per cent record from Group E and saw Almoez Ali score seven of their 10 goals.
“Our form is good but we must be on our toes against Qatar,” said Katanec, who is attempting to secure his adopted nation’s seventh-successive progression into the quarter-finals. “Jordan went into their [last-16] match against Vietnam having not conceded one goal, but the first one they did was enough to eliminate them from the tournament.
“Qatar will be a 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.”
Iraq – shock winners in 2007 and semi-finalists four years ago – came from behind to beat improving Vietnam 3-2, crushed Yemen 3-0 and played out a goalless draw with expected challengers Iran. Al Shorta striker Mohanad Ali, 18, has been the star for them to date, netting twice.
Former UAE coach Katanec wanted to give the Lions of Mesopotamia faithful “joy” with another deep run in the continental competition.
He said: “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.”
Tuesday’s winners will play either South Korea or Bahrain.
Japan edged into the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup as they won the battle of Asia’s giants, beating Saudi Arabia 1-0.
The Green Falcons flew out of the traps and wreaked havoc in the Samurai Blue defence early on. But with the men in blue standing stoutly at the back, they settled and went ahead midway through the first half when 20-year-old defender Takehiro Tomiyasu towered above the Saudi defence to nod in Gaku Shibasaki’s corner unopposed.
That seemed to demoralise the men in white, who after beginning with a gameplan based on guile, resorted to hitting it long, hoping to unsettle a Japan side who adequately dealt with a flurry of long balls and crosses.
Chances came and went, captain Salem Al Dawsari had a glorious opportunity when a loose clearance fell at his feet, but he blazed wildly over.
Another one-goal margin of victory for Japan. What are the chances of another trophy in this competition being delivered?
NOT PRETTY, BUT WILL THEY CARE?
They’ve been unspectacular if unquestionably solid in four outings so far. Yet record four-time Asian Cup champions Japan are rolling towards possibly another title.
Hajime Moriyasu’s side are undoubtedly one of the most individually talented teams in the UAE, yet a star-studded cast has stumbled into the quarter-finals rather than sauntered.
In fact you can make a case that former Samurai Blue international Moriyasu’s men looked more fluid when he drastically altered the make-up of his starting XI for the Group F dead rubber against Uzbekistan last Thursday. Fringe players like Al Ain’s Tsukasa Shiotani and Sei Muroya were standout performers.
Japan boast a squad that is the envy of Asia with the likes of Real Betis midfielder Takashi Inui, Getafe pivot Gaku Shibasaki and Hannover schemer Genki Haraguchi in their ranks.
Yet they have failed to gel so far. So, is it a case of underperforming or maybe fatigue? Or are we still yet to see the best of them? If it is the latter, though they find themselves in the last eight, it is surely only a matter of time before the Samurai Blue slice someone apart.
SAUDI FADE AFTER A BRIGHT START
Resplendent in their all-white strip, Saudi started brightly in sunny Sharjah, starting the game impressively, with Shuichi Gonda’s goal living a charmed life in the early stages.
The Samurai Blue back line had to withstand a heavy barrage of attacks in the opening 20 minutes, with Al Shabab Riyadh livewire Hattan Bahebri agonisingly close to a fine opener when his inventive curled effort from the edge of the box flew agonisingly past Gonda’s goal.
The opening strike sucked the life out of the encouraging Saudi support in the stands who nevertheless sang loud and proud throughout. They could not inspire their side though. Japan kept them at arm’s length for the majority of the game after going ahead and even when the Green Falcons were presented with a couple of opportunities, they could not swoop on them.
Al Hilal talisman Al Dawsari was particularly wasteful. Bahebri continued to bristle with attacking intent, but he could not fashion an incision into the tough Japanese defence.
GRITTY JAPAN GET OVER LINE
The Japanese theme of getting over the line continued in the knockouts as a fourth win was achieved by a margin of one goal.
In truth their last two wins – this triumph and the 2-1 win over Uzbekistan to bring the curtain down on proceedings in the group – were done with a little more panache and precision than the nervy 3-2 and 1-0 victories over minnows Turkmenistan and Gulf Cup champions Oman respectively.
While Moriyasu may moan that his side’s individual star power is not shining at the moment, what is burning bright is the team’s tenacity. The back four were warriors as they repeatedly put their bodies on the line following waves of Saudi surges forward.
The talented attacking trio of Shibasaki, Haraguchi and Ritsu Doan may be the tip of the Samurai Blue sword but they are also team players. Haraguchi, in-particular, worked tirelessly to back up 113-cap veteran Yuto Nagatomo at left-back.