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.

 


Algeria ready for ‘match of a lifetime’ — Guedioura

Updated 19 July 2019
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Algeria ready for ‘match of a lifetime’ — Guedioura

  • The Cup of Nations showpiece marks the climax not only of Algeria’s campaign on the field, but of their fans’ recent political campaign in the stands

CAIRO: Algeria midfielder Adlene Guedioura says Friday’s Africa Cup of Nations final against Senegal represents the “match of a lifetime” as his country bids to capture the title for a second time.

The Desert Foxes lifted their lone trophy on home soil in 1990 but coach Djamel Belmadi has reinvigorated a team that crashed out in the group stage two years ago and then flopped in World Cup qualifying.

“I think it’s the match of a lifetime for a lot of players in the team and for Algeria,” said Guedioura, who at 33 is the oldest member of the squad.

The Nottingham Forest journeyman has started five of six games in Egypt and insisted much of the credit for Algeria’s eye-catching performances must go to former national team midfielder Belmadi.

“He really knows the players and what he wants. The good thing is he knows how to get through to the players and how to listen,” said the 48-time international.

“If you don’t have a good cook you can’t have a good recipe. With that we realize we can be all together and it’s important to be a team.

“It’s important for Algeria because we used to have good individuals and now we feel very strong as a team and we want to achieve as a team.”

A Youcef Belaili goal earned Algeria a 1-0 victory over Senegal in the group stage, but Belmadi was quick to point out the statistics were heavily weighted in their opponents’ favor.

“Of course we can lose this match. We have an opponent that is number one in the FIFA rankings for Africa. They were at the World Cup. We were eliminated in the first round in 2017,” said Belmadi.

“If you get to the final, the aim is obviously to win it. The game in the group stage wasn’t decisive but now it is and that’s the difference.”

He added: “The most important is to stay concentrated and determined yet calm at the same time.”

Algeria will have the backing of an additional 4,800 fans for the final.

Some of them will arrive in Cairo on military planes organized by Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.

The Cup of Nations showpiece marks the climax not only of Algeria’s campaign on the field, but of their fans’ recent political campaign in the stands.

In April, long-standing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned after weekly Friday protests against his expected candidacy for elections, and football fans have been heavily involved in demonstrations.

“We know what’s happening. The people we represent have been wonderful,” said Guedioura

“It’s magnificent what is happening. We’re focused on football but we want to win the final for the people,” he added.