Underdogs with bite and sloppy South Korea: What we learned from the Asian Cup second round

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The lesser lights have enjoyed their tournament while the big guns have failed to fire so far. (AFP)
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Updated 23 January 2019

Underdogs with bite and sloppy South Korea: What we learned from the Asian Cup second round

  • Can the mighty minnows continue impressive run in the UAE?
  • Or will the big guns start to fire in quarterfinals?

LONDON: Asia’s biggest sporting spectacle has reached its quarterfinal stage — and it’s time for teams to find their A-game. While there are few surprises in the last-eight lineup, the form of some of the big-name sides has been less than impressive. Here we deliver our verdict on the second round.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT — Saudi Arabia’s attack

The Green Falcons started the tournament at top speed. They came in as one of the cup favorites and in their opening two matches illustrated why. A 4-0 thrashing of North Korea was backed up with a relatively simple 2-0 victory over Lebanon. Understandably, that raised hopes that Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men could go all the way in the UAE. Alas, it was not to be as a 2-0 defeat to Qatar in their last group clash left them with a tricky tie against Japan. For all their efforts Saudi Arabia were unable to find the back of the net, the lack of firepower upfront costing Pizzi’s team yet again.

BIGGEST SHOCK — South Korean sloppiness

Boosted by the arrival of Tottenham star Son Heung-Min, South Korea were rightly declared the pre-tournament favorites. They had firepower up front, intelligence and creativity in midfield, and experience at the back. In the four matches in the UAE so far, however, they have looked anything but potential champions. They labored to beat Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines and China in the group stage before almost being shocked by part-timers Bahrain in the second round. South Korea now face Qatar in the last eight and, as Son said after their extra-time win over Bahrain, they need to significantly improve if they are to avoid a shock exit before the semis.

UNDER PRESSURE — Alberto Zaccheroni and the UAE



The Whites owe their place in the last eight to luck more than skill. In some ways that is not a surprise — the hosts came into the tournament without their talisman, the injured Omar Abdulrahman, and on the back of a patchy run of form. But, still, the performances on home soil have been underwhelming to say the least. That was summed up with their extra-time win over Kyrgyzstan, who were playing in their first Asian Cup. It was a far-from-convincing performance and Central Asians were unlucky not to beat Zaccheroni’s side. The UAE will have to deliver their best performance for some time if they are to progress further. Their opponents, Australia, have also performed poorly, which may offer them some encouragement.

BEST HIGHLIGHT — The mighty minnows

The big guns have not had it all their own way. That may annoy their fans, but it does show that Asian football is improving. Only a few years ago the idea that Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain and Jordan would look the equals of Australia and Co. would have seemed fanciful. But in the past two weeks the standard shown by the so-called lesser lights has been impressive — and great to watch. Last summer five Asian teams appeared at the World Cup for the first time and it was hoped that showing would act as a springboard for further progress across the continent. On the evidence of the action in the UAE that wish could be coming true.

 

PREDICTIONS 

 


Neymar future remains up in the air as PSG reject Madrid offer

Updated 47 min 14 sec ago

Neymar future remains up in the air as PSG reject Madrid offer

  • Paris club said to turn down an offer from Barcelona of €40 million plus Coutinho and Rakitic

PARIS: Neymar remains no closer to getting his desired move away from Paris Saint-Germain amid reports Thursday the French club have rejected an offer from Real Madrid of €100 million($111 million) plus players.

French sports daily L’Equipe said Real had offered cash plus Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, but PSG turned it down because “the overall value of the offer did not match their expectations.” 

Paris paid €222 million to sign Neymar from Barcelona two years ago and their sporting director Leonardo is understood to be determined to only sell the forward for a deal considered to be of the same value.

Real have spent the summer trying to offload Bale, while James is unwanted after returning from a loan at Bayern Munich and Navas is no longer the club’s first-choice goalkeeper.

Meanwhile, Barcelona remain hopeful of bringing Neymar back to the Camp Nou, but Catalan daily Sport claims an attempt to sign the player on loan with an obligation to buy for €160 million at the end of the season has been firmly rejected in Paris.

Sport claims Barcelona feel “it is very clear that PSG are trying to prevent the Brazilian from returning to the Camp Nou in any scenario.” 

PSG had previously reportedly turned down an offer from Barcelona of €40 million  plus Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic. Coutinho has since joined Bayern on loan.

Juventus are also believed to have stated an interest in signing the 27-year-old, who has not featured in any of PSG’s matches so far this season having been frozen out amid the uncertainty over his future. The transfer window closes in France, Spain and Italy on Sept. 2, meaning time is fast running out for a deal to be done.

Watford loan Sweden winger Sema to Udinese

Watford winger Ken Sema has completed a season-long loan move to Udinese, the Serie A side confirmed on Thursday.

The six-times capped Sweden international only moved to Vicarage Road last summer from Ostersunds FK and made 22 appearances for the English club.

The 25-year-old's departure follows the arrival of Senegal international Ismaila Sarr to the Premier League outfit on a club record transfer of €35 million   ($38 million) from Rennes. The northeastern Italian club and Watford are both owned by the Pozzo family.

Udinese host AC Milan in their opening match of the Serie A season on Saturday.