The day saw the tournament heavyweights performing up to expectations.
The West Asians reigned supreme in the AFC Asian Cup on Saturday, all attaining qualification for the round of 16. It all started when Iran continued their brilliant run, seeing off Vietnam 2-0 at the Al-Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi. Their heroic striker Sardar Azmoun stole the headlines with two goals in each half, giving Team Melli all three points. This allowed them to go into the heated tie against Iraq packed with momentum and poised to win Group D.
Vietnam will probably feel undone by the defeats, despite giving bright performances. The question for them remains as to whether they should’ve put more bodies into marking Azmoun? Definitely. Knowing how clinical the striker is, he should’ve been marked tighter. Azmoun found too much space to take shots on goal, as defenders Do Duy Manh and Que Ngoc Hai were lacklustre in keeping him in check.
Watch: Vietnam 0-2 IR Iran highlights
Despite the win, Iran will question whether they are clinical enough to down the resurgent Iraq side and win the group? They probably are. However, Iran can’t let complacency set in, as the Lions of Mesopotamia’s attack is extremely unpredictable. Alireza Jahanbaksh and Karim Ansarifard might start against them, as Team Melli will aim to go for the kill with another dominant victory.
Iraq, on the other hand, solved their defensive problems to thrash Yemen 3-0 at the Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah. Early goals from Mohamed Ali and Bashar Bonyan. along with a late one from substitute Alaa Abbas were enough to down a frail Yemen side. The Lions of Mesopotamia will question whether they took Vietnam’s threat too lightly the other day? Probably. Their defending was quite dreadful, timid and they were more assertive against Yemen.
Watch: Yemen 0-3 Iraq highlights
They’ll also question whether or not their attack can thwart a defensively strong Iran? Probably. Mohammed Ali’s quite an unpredictable striker and the different methods through which Iraq attack, they can definitely score a goal or two to shock an untested Iran side.
For Yemen, the question remains as to whether they were too timid in defending against Iraq’s attack and giving them too much space? Definitely. Their defending was sub-par against a ruthless attack. The Red Devils were too lacklustre defensively, creating holes in the defence and allowing Iraq’s attackers to move into promising positions. They have much to learn from this Asian Cup campaign, especially when it comes to smart defending.
In the final game, Saudi Arabia picked up another easy win, brushing aside Lebanon 2-0 at the Al-Maktoum stadium, Dubai. A game riddled with errors, The Green Falcons pounced on their opponent’s defensive weakness to score through Fahad Al Muwallad and Hussain Almoqahwi to move onto the next stages. For Lebanon, the question would be, did they dig their own grave with defensive errors? Absolutely.
Watch: Lebanon 0-2 Saudi Arabia highlights
Robert Melki had a horror-show in defence, being responsible for conceding both the goals. The defender unluckily played the ball to Fahad for the first goal, after a terrible misplaced pass from Joan Oumari. He also got beaten too easily for the second one by Almoqahwi. Repeatedly, Lebanon’s defence was being breached too easily and their hoof-ball approach in attack didn’t work either.
Saudi Arabia will ponder whether or not they could’ve been more clinical in finishing? Maybe. The Green Falcons attempted fifteen shots, out of which seven were on target. Despite such a dominant display, Saudi Arabia need to be more clinical in finishing the chances they so beautifully create.
The question also arises as to whether the Green Falcons can oust an unpredictable Qatar side? Probably. They look high on confidence going forward and the complete package. Qatar might be strong contenders, but they’re likely to be overpowered by the Saudis, who should win Group E easily.