Five goals were scored in a day where all the games proved to be tough affairs.
The first match in the second round at the AFC Asian Cup saw Thailand take on Bahrain. The Thais were looking to bounce back from their defeat against India, while Bahrain were looking to carry on their strong performance from the stalemate against the United Arab Emirates. However, it was the War Elephants that emerged victorious, ousting the West Asian side with a gritty defensive display.
After an intense first half which saw Bahrain dominate proceedings, Thailand managed to get the lead through Chanathip Songkrasin. The Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo player’s stinging shot at the end of a counter-attack was decisive for the Thais. After conceding the opener, Bahrain never managed to claw back into the game.
Watch: Bahrain 0-1 Thailand highlights
Thailand had several great chances to increase their lead. How important will these missed chances be, in terms of goal-difference, in such a tight group? Very. Considering the fact that the War Elephants conceded four goals in their tournament opener against India. The Thais also switched to a back three under their new coach. Was that a big factor in their victory? Definitely. The three centre-backs were solid throughout the game and despite having the majority of the ball, Bahrain failed to find a way through.
In the last game against the UAE, the Reds were comfortable without the ball, but against a counter-attacking side like Thailand, when they kept possession for long periods of time they looked clueless. Will they need to adapt on the ball against India in their final group game? Undoubtedly. India are a counter-attacking side who defend well and break forward meticulously. If they need to make it to the knockout stages, Bahrain will need to be at their absolute best to garner all three points against the Blue Tigers.
In an All West-Asian affair, Jordan overcame Syria to become the first team to qualify for the knockout stages. Jordan were riding high on confidence after a surprising victory against favourites Australia. They took the lead in the 26th minute through Musa Al-Taamari’s tap in.
The Brave Gentlemen then took advantage of some lax set-piece defending from Syria to increase their advantage. Al-Taamari was exquisite and Tareq Khattab duly obliged with a beautiful header. Syria failed to reduce the deficit giving Jordan maximum points from their first two matches.
Khattab’s goal was the second from a corner scored by Jordan in the tournament, with their winner against Australia also coming from a similar routine. Should the Qasioun Eagles have been more vigilant during set-piece circumstances? Unquestionably. Jordan performed the same routine that worked successfully against Australia and if the Syrian defenders had been more attentive they could have prevented the second.
Omar Khrbin had a stellar opportunity to pull Syria back into it, but his header went over the bar. Had it gone in, would the result have gone against Jordan? Maybe. Jordan were still performing solidly despite seeing less off the ball. The eventual winners were comfortable of the ball and frustrated Syria for large periods with their discipline and got the deserved three points.
United Arab Emirates took the lead through Khalfan Mubarak in the 41st minute after being set up by Ali Mabkhout. The Al Jazira forward took the ball past Anirudh Thapa before lashing a fierce shot past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal.
India tried to hit back and almost equalized in the second half when Udanta Singh hit the crossbar.UAE then capitalized on the missed Indian chances and Ali Mabkhout doubled the advantage in the 90th minute after an impressive long ball and a delicate touch set him free to slot past Gurpreet.
Watch: India 0-2 United Arab Emirates highlights
Did the lack of communication between the defenders cost India the game? Definitely. The hosts exploited the Indian defence through long balls. They almost caught out Pritam Kotal and Anas Edathodika in a situation eerily similar to what led to the first goal. Stephen Constantine will need to address the defensive frailties when it comes to long balls before the next round of matches.
Have the hosts found back the flair that was absent in the tournament opener? Probably. This victory still leaves a lot of questions unanswered regarding the UAE defence, which manager Alberto Zaccheroni needs to address. The Indians had several chances which they failed to capitalize on. But, the UAE managed to turn up the heat when it mattered.