The day saw back-to-back tactical excellence in the continental showpiece.
The final set of quarterfinal fixtures was setup as heavyweights South Korea and Qatar fought off tough opposition to move ahead. Korea were taken to their absolute limit by a resurgent Bahrain, whom they defeated 2-1 in extra-time at the Rashid Stadium, Dubai. They went ahead late in the first half, when Hwan Hee-Chan latched on to a botched clearance to score past Dilmun’s Warriors.
However, Bahrain came rallying back in the second half and after much persistence, they equalized through Mohamed Al Romaihi in the 77th minute. The game was forced into extra-time as the Taegeuk Warriors struggled to break down the Bahrain defence. However, in the 107th minute, a fantastic cross from Lee Yong found Kim Jin-su at the far-post, as the substitute scored a powerful header to send his fans into a frenzy.
Watch: Korea Republic 2-1 Bahrain highlights
Korea might’ve won the game, but Bahrain were the ones to create the most glaring chances. They had four shots on target, but Kim Seung-gyu’s good work and some poor finishing didn’t allow them to kill off the game. The Tigers of Asia were quite the opposite, scoring from the only two shots on target they had, proving why they’re favourites to win the tournament.
In the final Round of 16 fixture, Qatar fended off Iraq’s threat to move into the quarterfinals with a narrow 1-0 win at the Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi. A brilliant free-kick from defender Bassam Al Rawi in the 62nd minute proved to be the winner, as they did well to keep Iraq contained afterwards. In what was quite a physical and cagey affair, Qatar proved their defensive strength by denying Iraq a sniff at goal after going up.
The tensions between both sides were evident in a hard-hitting contest, in which 27 fouls were committed and seven yellow cards were brandished as well. The Lions of Mesopotamia threw men forward to tried and break Qatar’s resolve, but disappointing work in front of goal didn’t help their cause. The Maroons maintained their perfect defensive record and still haven’t conceded a single goal in their four matches so far in the Asian Cup.
Watch: Qatar 1-0 Iraq highlights
However, now that one hurdle has been crossed, Korea Republic and Qatar have a date with destiny on Friday when they face each other. In what is expected to be a tight affair, the defensive solidity of Qatar will face the attacking might of South Korea, who boast arguably the best Asian player currently in captain Son Heung-min.
It’ll be a huge test for both teams, who’ll have to face the tournament’s top scorer Almoez Ali and the most in-form player in Son. However, with defender Abdelkarim Hassan and midfielder Assim Madibo ruled out with suspension, Qatar will find it difficult to maintain a similarly unbreakable resolve at the back.
Both teams were made to work extremely hard by some stiff competition and only have a few days to recover from Tuesday’s fixtures. However, with a semi-finals berth hanging in the balance, The Tigers of Asia and the Maroons will take the game to each other at the Zayed Sports City Stadium.