Five teams that can cause a shock at the Asian Cup

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The form of Hassan Maatouk, Omar Al-Soma and Wu Lei could determine the fortunes of their teams in the UAE. (AFP)
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Updated 03 January 2019
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Five teams that can cause a shock at the Asian Cup

  • They may not be tipped to lift the trophy but these teams are more than capable of beating a few of the big guns.

LONDON: With just 24 hours left until the referee blows his whistle to get the Asian Cup underway the time for talk is all but over. Here we look at five teams that could surprise over the next month.

LEBANON

The Cedars only previous appearance at the tournament was in 2000 when they were there by virtue of being the hosts. That this is the first time they have qualified does not mean they cannot upset a few of the bigger names, however. They face a tough task to get out of Group E with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Korea in the way, but they have surprised in the past and went unbeaten from March 2016 until last October. The form of striker Hassan Maatouk will be vital to their hopes of getting beyond the group stage.




UZBEKISTAN

Think of the Central Asian side and there is a good chance you might dismiss their chances of going deep in the UAE. Their rivals would do well to avoid making that mistake. They impressed in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and proved a hard team to beat. All Hector Cuper teams are defensively solid and the White Wolves will look to Odoljon Xamrobekov to control the midfield and provide the creative spark at the other end of the pitch when needed. They should progress to the knockout stages and will be a team to avoid.



SYRIA

Having come close to qualifying for last year’s World Cup — they lost the Asian playoff to Australia — Syria head into the tournament with more expectation than most sides. With that, however, they have lost the ability to surprise some of the bigger sides. If Omar Al-Soma can do what he does best, namely score goals and give opposition defenders headaches, then they could well progress far. Their last group game against the Socceroos will provide a good indication on how they can do in the UAE, not least with the prospect of revenge in the offing. If they can go deep it will be some achievement having failed to qualify for the tournament four years ago.




IRAQ

Srecko Katanec has been in charge of the Lions of Mesopotamia for only four months, but he takes the side to the UAE confident they can dent a few reputations and progress far. Iraq memorably won the Asian Cup in 2007 and while a repeat is unlikely they are definitely a team to avoid come the knockout stages. They should see off Yemen and Vietnam in Group D and their clash against one of the big favorites Iran will be a good gauge of how far they can go. One thing for certain is that Katanec is taking nothing for granted. “For me, as a coach, the more difficult matches are against Yemen and Vietnam. They are also here to show they belong. They will fight. We will fight. Nothing is easy,” the Slovenian said.




CHINA

The Chinese government is throwing money at youth football, and while you would think it is just a matter of time before they become a continental and global powerhouse the squad at Marcello Lippi’s disposal is limited and one of the oldest at the tournament. That said the Chinese arrive in the UAE as one of the best prepared. The Italian coach has had his squad together since the start of December. “This is truly the first time that we have enough time for better preparation tactically and physically,” Lippi said. Much will rest on the shoulders of Wu Lei. The Shanghai SIPG forward, last season’s Chinese Super League top-scorer, needs to find his scoring boots if China are to do well. They should have enough to see off Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines and progress from Group C and from there on they could take on the role of giantkiller.

 


Embiid returns to help 76ers beat Nets for 3-1 lead

Updated 21 April 2019
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Embiid returns to help 76ers beat Nets for 3-1 lead

  • The 76ers seized a 3-1 lead in the first-round series against the Nets

NEW YORK: Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid returned from injury to score a game-high 31 points and grab 16 rebounds, powering the 76ers to a 112-108 NBA playoff victory at Brooklyn on Saturday.
Despite a third-quarter incident that saw two players ejected, the 76ers seized a 3-1 lead in the first-round series against the Nets and could advance in the Eastern Conference best-of-seven matchup with a home victory Tuesday.
In the other Eastern Conference game, Khris Middleton finished with 20 points and nine rebounds as the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks put the Detroit Pistons on the brink of elimination with a 119-103 win. The victory give the Bucks a 3-0 lead and they can wrap up the series with a win on the road in the Motor City on Monday.
Philadelphia, down by 10 points early in the third quarter, battled back most of the second half before taking the lead on a run of eight points by Embiid, who missed game three with a sore left knee.
A slam dunk and layup by Embiid gave the 76ers their first late lead at 102-101 but, after an exchange of layups and three-pointers as well as turnovers, fell behind 108-107 on a basket by Brooklyn’s Joe Harris with 25 seconds remaining.
On the next 76er possession, Embiid flipped the last of his seven assists to Mike Scott, whose corner three-pointer put Philadelphia ahead to stay 110-108 with 19 seconds remaining.
Australian Ben Simmons — who added 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the 76ers — stole the ball from Brooklyn’s Jarett Allen and Tobias Harris sank two free throws for the last of his 24 points to clinch the triumph.
Caris LeVert led the Nets with 25 points while Brooklyn had 21 points each from Allen and D’Angelo Russell.
Cameroon star center Embiid was issued a flagrant foul in touching off an altercation 4:18 into the third quarter that saw Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler Brooklyn’s Jared Dudley ejected. Embiid, who had elbowed Allen in the face in game two, was whistled for a hard foul on Allen that prompted Dudley to rush at Embiid, taking down the Sixers big man. Butler swung his left arm at Dudley, who wound up in the front row seats with Simmons at one stage, to earn his ejection.
In Detroit, Brook Lopez tallied 19 points and had seven rebounds and five blocked shots and Eric Bledsoe scored 19 points for the Bucks.
Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered 14 points and 10 rebounds for his third straight double-double in the series and Nikola Mirotic chipped in 12 points.
Detroit’s hobbled star Blake Griffin had 27 points in 31 minutes after he missed the first two games of the series with a sore knee.
Griffin was cleared with his leg heavily wrapped but it didn’t change the outcome.
The Pistons have now lost 13 straight playoff games dating back to 2008. In the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets — led by game highs of 29 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists from Serbian playmaker Nikola Jokic — pulled level with San Antonio at 2-2 in their opening series with a 117-103 road triumph over the Spurs.