Sweet 16 for South Korea, China, as Socceroos bounce back

Kim Min-jae of South Korea scores the winning goal in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup group C match against Kyrgyzstan in Al Ain. (EPA)
Updated 11 January 2019
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Sweet 16 for South Korea, China, as Socceroos bounce back

  • The Koreans, runners-up in 2015, squeezed past Kyrgyzstan 1-0 thanks to a Kim Min-jae strike just before half-time
  • A Wu Lei-inspired China comfortably beat a Philippines side led by China coach Marcelo Lippi’s old adversary Sven-Goran Eriksson 3-0

AL-AIN, United Arab Emirates: South Korea and China ensured their places in the Asian Cup last 16 on Friday after continuing their perfect starts as Australia reignited their title defense with a vital win over Palestine.
The Koreans, runners-up in 2015, squeezed past Kyrgyzstan 1-0 thanks to a Kim Min-jae strike just before half-time while a Wu Lei-inspired China comfortably beat 3-0 a Philippines side led by China coach Marcelo Lippi’s old adversary Sven-Goran Eriksson.
South Korea and China are level on six points at the top of Group C ahead of their group-decider on Wednesday and join Jordan in the knockout stages of the Asian showpiece, which features 24 teams for the first time.
South Korea were made to sweat once again by minor opposition following their opening single-goal win over the Philippines.
But they will be glad to be safely through without the services of Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min, who sat out the first two games under a deal with the Premier League club.
Kyrgyzstan caused some anxious moments for South Korea in the first half, especially from corners with Bekzhan Sagynbaev having one effort saved at point-blank range.
At the other end, Lee Chung-yong blazed a glorious chance over and Koo Ja-cheol had a goal-bound shot punched away by goalkeeper Kutman Kadyrbekov — in for Pavel Matiash, who was guilty of a howling own goal in their defeat to China.
From the resulting corner, defender Min-jae lost his marker and was first to the ball at the near post, where he made no mistake to put the Koreans ahead.
After the break, Akhlidin Israilov appealed vigorously for handball after Jung Woo-young’s block, while Hwang Ui-jo twice hit the bar — first with a header that bounced down and off the line, and then a fierce shot that was parried upwards by Kadyrbekov.
There was disbelief when Hwang Hee-chan rattled the crossbar once again for the Koreans, and it could easily have ended 1-1 if Kim Seung-gyu hadn’t blocked Tursunali Rustamov’s stinging shot in injury time.
Earlier in Abu Dhabi, Wu Lei fired the first of his brace for China five minutes before half-time, turning on the edge of the box and whipping a right-foot shot into the far corner.
His second was even better as he swivelled to slam a Hao Junmin free-kick past Philippines goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard on the volley after 66 minutes to effectively end the match.
Substitute Yu Dabao added a third with his first touch 10 minutes from time for China, who are hoping to improve on their quarter-final finish in Australia four years ago.
“If we can continue to play like that we have nothing to fear from any team at this Asian Cup,” said Lippi, who led Italy to the 2006 World Cup and sparred with Eriksson in his Serie A days.
In Dubai, coach Graham Arnold warned Australia would only improve as the defending champions saw off Palestine 3-0 to move within sight of the knockouts.
Goals from Hibernian striker Jamie Maclaren, Awer Mabil and substitute Apostolos Giannou banished memories of the shock opening defeat to Jordan as Australia went second in Group B.
The Aussies will now go into next Tuesday’s final group game against Syria with their confidence fully restored.
“Now it’s all about the Syria game,” said Arnold.
“We’ll go back to the training field, we’ll recover well and we’ll go out for the Syria game with all guns blazing, expecting to win.
“I expect we will get better and better as we go.”


Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City ease past Huddersfield to cut Liverpool’s Premier League lead

Updated 20 January 2019
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Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City ease past Huddersfield to cut Liverpool’s Premier League lead

HUDDERSFIELD: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was far from satisfied despite a 3-0 win away to Huddersfield Town on Sunday that saw his side cut Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League table to four points.
Liverpool’s compelling 4-3 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday heaped huge pressure back onto reigning champions City but they were rarely troubled by a Town side that look a certain bet for relegation this season.
City’s first goal, a deflected strike for Danilo in the 18th minute, brought up their 100th goal of the season in all competitions before Raheem Sterling scored a diving header from Leroy Sane’s cross in the 54th minute and Sane himself made it 3-0 with a calm finish just two minutes later.
For Guardiola, it should have been an afternoon of enjoyment as his side again proved their willingness to push Liverpool all the way this season.
The City manager, however, has forged a footballing reputation based on sublime performances as well as ruthless goalscoring and, on that basis, his team’s showing in West Yorkshire was not a success as the visitors never really clicked into gear on a day against a Huddersfield side who had parted company with manager David Wagner on Monday.
“During the season you have these kind of games,” Guardiola said. “It is important to win. We have scored many goals in all competitions.
“(But) the way we played, we didn’t deserve more than three goals. We will improve in the future.
“We have to demand more from ourselves in every game and do our best, but sometimes it’s difficult.
“Today we are happy we have won but after immediately we have to analyze. During the season you have games when maybe you are not in the top level and it is important to win these games.”
Although City’s fans were happier than their manager following this result, Guardiola could at least take some heart from the fact his side again refused to blink first in the race for the title.
For the second consecutive week, City kicked off knowing Liverpool had already won their weekend fixture and that, consequently, the onus was back on his players to secure three points as well.
Once again, Guardiola’s side managed to do that following up the 3-0 victory over Wolves with this showing and the City manager was more than happy to remind everybody that silverware is not handed out for another four months.
“One team has been better but we’re in January and there’s many more games to play,” he added.
“You don’t win or lose the Premier League in January. We have to focus on what we have to do. If Liverpool win, we have to win. And if Liverpool lose then we also have to win.”
This match was a baptism of fire for Huddersfield’s caretaker boss Mark Hudson and while the Terriers showed impressive fight to inspire some hope this season, this defeat still left them 10 points adrift of safety.
If, as expected, the Borussia Dortmund Under-23 coach Jan Siewert is appointed as Wagner’s permanent replacement, nobody would blame him if he spent his first day in the job preparing for a return to the second-tier Championship next season.
“It’s been a long week,” admitted Hudson.