Already 4 down, West Asian contenders dropping in Australia
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — With 10 out of 16 teams at the 2015 Asian Cup coming from the western side of the continent, the region was never going to have a better chance to dominate the tournament.
Already, though, four teams are out of contention within the first week. Bahrain and Gulf Cup champion Qatar were the third and fourth to go with a game remaining in the group stage, joining Kuwait and Oman.
Given the way the draw was made, seven western zone teams could potentially have reached the quarterfinals. If three-time champion Saudi Arabia loses its last group game to Uzbekistan on Sunday, however, the likely number of West Asian teams advancing will be three — unless Jordan and Iraq somehow manage to shock defending champion Japan in Group D.
Bahrain’s 2-1 loss to the United Arab Emirates in Canberra on Thursday and Qatar’s loss to Iran in Sydney came 48 hours after South Korea and Australia took the top two spots in Group A to eliminate Kuwait and Oman.
UAE coach Mahdi Ali refused to talk about the region as a whole after the victory, set up with Ali Mabkhout’s goal after 14 seconds.
“I am not in the position to judge other teams,” in the region, Ali said. “We came here to show that UAE is a good team and we have to represent our country in a good way and until now we are successful. We hope that we keep going in the same way.”
So far, there have been seven games pitting teams from opposite zones against each other. Six have been lost by the western region teams, with Saudi Arabia’s 4-1 win over North Korea the only result to buck the trend. The Saudis need just one point in their final group game against Uzbekistan to make the quarterfinals. So it’s quite feasible that the 2015 will mirror the 2011 tournament in Qatar, when no Middle-Eastern teams made the semis. Japan beat Australia in the final. South Korea and Uzbekistan lost in the semifinals.
While the quantity has reduced, it remains to be seen if the quality is still there. The UAE has performed well with six goals in its opening two wins. Iran was solid against Bahrain and Qatar. Iraq, the other western team with a win to its name, won the title in 2007. None of those teams, though, has yet faced a team from outside its own region.
There are some positive signs. UAE has three of the best attacking players in the tournament. Mabkhout’s rapid opener against Bahrain added to his two goals against Qatar. Overall, the Al Jazira striker has eight from his last seven international games and Ahmed Khallil also scored twice against Qatar.
Playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, one of the most exciting young players in Asia, believes that the pair can go on to star at the Asian Cup.
“I am very happy with Ali Mabkhout’s performance and we are lucky to have two strikers and we will work hard to help them score more goals in the coming matches and we hope that one can become the top scorer in this tournament,” he said. “Our goal in this tournament is to do our best in the competition and achieve our goals.”
Also on Thursday, Iran’s Sardar Azmoun scored one of the goals of the tournament to defeat Qatar. The two young stars may meet on the pitch in the final Group C game on Monday as Iran takes on UAE to decide which team takes top spot. Then the talented youngsters will get a chance to test themselves against some unfamiliar opposition.