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.

 


Ronaldo faces multi-million tax fraud fine in Madrid court

Updated 22 January 2019
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Ronaldo faces multi-million tax fraud fine in Madrid court

MADRID: Cristiano Ronaldo is returning to Madrid for a court date on Tuesday in which he could be fined 18.8 million euros ($21.4 million) for tax fraud as part of a deal reached with the Spanish taxman.
As part of an agreement arranged in June with the former Real Madrid hero’s lawyers, prosecutors are also asking that the Portuguese attacker, who last summer left the Spanish capital for Italian champions Juventus, be handed a 23-month jail sentence.
However Ronaldo would not spend a day in prison as sentences of up to two years are generally not enforced in Spain for first-time offenders in non-violent crimes.
The hearing, due to start at 9:50 am (0850 GMT), is expected to last just a few minutes as the deal is officially presented to the judge.
He in turn will give the final sentence on Tuesday or the coming days, according to a spokesman for the court in northern Madrid.
Ronaldo will not be given special treatment when he arrives and will have to climb up the courthouse steps amid a likely media scrum despite the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s lawyers asking he be allowed to enter the building by car to avoid the spotlight.
The court president refused the request, saying that despite his “great fame,” he wouldn’t “compromise security” at the building, according to a court document.
His request to appear via videoconference was also denied.

Denial
Madrid prosecutors opened a probe into Ronaldo in June 2017 and he was questioned in July that same year.
“I have never hidden anything, nor have I had the intention of evading taxes,” he told the court then, according to a statement from the sports agency which represents him, Gestifute.
Prosecutors accuse him of having used companies in low-tax foreign jurisdictions — notably the British Virgin Islands and Ireland — to avoid having to pay the tax due in Spain on his image rights between 2011 and 2014.
His lawyers said there had been a difference in interpretation of what was and was not taxable in Spain.
The deal between Spain’s taxman and his lawyers has allowed Ronaldo to avoid having to sit through a long trial that could have damaged his image and seen him handed a heftier sentence.
Ronaldo is not the only footballer to have fallen foul of Spain’s tax authorities.
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, once Ronaldo’s big La Liga rival, paid a two-million-euro fine in 2016 in his own tax wrangle and received a 21-month jail term.
The prison sentence was later reduced to a further fine of 252,000 euros, equivalent to 400 euros per day of the original term.

Accused of rape
But Ronaldo’s legal wrangles won’t be over after a probe was opened in the United States in October after a former American model accused him of raping her in Las Vegas in 2009.
Police in the western US city recently asked Italian authorities for a DNA sample from the footballer.
Ronaldo has always strenuously denied the accusations.
In a New Year’s Eve interview with Portuguese sports daily Record, he said he had a “calm conscience” and was “confident that everything will very soon be clarified.”