Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mixed results in friendlies for Asian Cup favourites

Many of the favourites for the forthcoming AFC Asian Cup played friendlies on Saturday, a FIFA-designated day allowing for players to return to their national squads from around the world.

Australia recorded an impressive 2-0 win over China in their international match played in YueXiuShan Stadium, Guangzhou considering the Socceroos were without the services of Tim Cahill, Jason Culina, Brett Emerton, Vince Grella, Harry Kewell and Craig Moore with coach Graham Arnold only having eight of the 23-man FIFA World Cup squad available. Brett Holman scored his first goal for the senior team after just eight minutes, with Mark Bresciano scoring the second goal 20 minutes later. Manchester United forward Dong Fangzhuo sparked a Chinese revival in the second half, unlocking the Australian defence as Shao Jiayi twice came close and Hang Peng forced a smart stop from Australia's Mark Schwarzer. "Compared with the Australians there is a gap in physical strength and speed. Our collaboration was weak as we only trained together for a few days," Dong told CCTV.

Glasgow Celtic’s Shunsuke Nakamura inspired current Asian champion, Japan, to a 2-0 home victory against a weakened Peru. Nakamura whipped in a free kick from the left for striker Seiichiro Maki to head home after 19 minutes and produced a carbon-copy delivery for Japan’s second goal. Still wearing a bandage after breaking his left hand last month, Nakamura swept the ball into the danger zone for Naohiro Takahara to double Japan’s lead nine minutes after the break. Japan’s goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was underemployed on his 100th international appearance and Japan's first win against Peru in four games.

Uruguay forward Carlos Bueno capitalised on a couple of moments of sloppy defending to score both goals in a 2-0 victory over South Korea in Seoul. A defensive lapse set up Uruguay for its first goal midway through the first half, with forward Álvaro Recoba passing the ball past the South Korean defense and goalkeeper to an unmarked Bueno, who scored easily. Bueno scored his second goal 20 minutes later after he got on the end of a long pass and outran two defenders before shooting into the top right corner, out of goalkeeper Kim Young-dae’s reach. South Korea came out more aggressively in the second half but failed to capitalise on good chances, including a shot by forward Seol Ki-hyeon that hit the post. Uruguay's victory stretched their winning streak to four over South Korea who have now not won a match against any Latin American team since 2001.

Alireza Vahedi Nikbakht’s seventh minute goal helped Iran defeat host Qatar 1-0. The two meet again in July in Tehran. However Vahid Hashemian one of Iran's most experienced foreign-based players with eight years of playing experience in the Bundesliga (138 games and 34 goals for Hamburg, Bochum, Bayern Munich and currently, Hannover 96) is dismissive of preparing for the Asian Cup by playing smaller, neighbouring nations. "We need to organize friendly games with good teams. I do not want to disrespect any team, but playing against UAE, Qatar and such like will not benefit our football at all. Organising games against top teams, and more importantly, having a disciplined league will be the keys to our success in Asia," he told Radio Germany.

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