Thursday, July 19, 2007

Regions well represented in Asian Cup final eight

The big gamble by the Asian Football Confederation to re-energise domestic football in South East Asia through the AFC Asian Cup 2007 played in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, appears to have been successful through the group stage. Sure the logistics in presenting a tournament of 16 teams in four different countries and eight venues was huge (and in hindsight, quite mad) but the 24 games of the group stage were completed without major trauma and presented entertaining football more often than not and even to capacity crowds.

The resulting spread of the Final 8 across the continent is surprisingly well balanced. From West Asia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran; from Central & South Asia, Uzbekistan; from East Asia, Japan and South Korea; and from South East Asia, Vietnam and Australia.

China missed out for the first time since 1980 and elite squads such as Australia and South Korea suffered shock losses on the way. The quarter-finals themselves offer some very decent match-ups. Of the co-hosts, only Vietnam remains to play Iraq in Bangkok on Saturday while Australia's Socceroos take on Japan in Hanoi in a reprise of their famous World Cup game in Germany last year in which Australia came from behind to win 3-1 with two goals to Tim Cahill. "This will be the biggest game, probably, of the tournament," said Cahill, while Japan's players spoke of revenge. "We can't stand to lose to the same opponents twice. Once was enough," Yuji Nakazawa said. And goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi said: "This is a chance to avenge last year's grudge. That is why we are here." On Sunday, Saudi Arabia will play Uzbekistan in Jakarta, while Iran takes on South Korea in Kuala Lumpur.

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