I did not see this coming: smoke still smoldering from last night’s quarterfinals down under -Iraq downed rival Iran on penalties (3-3 / PK 6-7) and an even more seismic shocker – Japan, defending Asia Cup champs, who many regarded as tournament favorites, went down in defeat despite finding a late game equalizer to take the game into OT. But extra time could not decide things. UAE and the Blue Samurai went to penalty kicks. Honda and Kagawa both missed in the shootout and UAE came out ahead to triumph 4-5 in PKs. Aguirre kept the same lineup for the 4th consecutive game. UAE took the lead early in the 7th minute (Mabkhout scoring the goal), this after Inui’s header in the 2nd minute went just wide of goal. It took Japan all the way to the 83rd to equalize, Shibasaki taking a Honda pass to score and take the game into extra time. Extra time came and went and into Penalty kicks to decide things. Honda went first for Japan and missed -eventually evened out when Khamis Esmaeel’s shot went high and over. When Kagawa’s shot hit the post, Ismail Ahmed nailed his shot to send UAE to their first semifinal appearance since 1996 – coincidentally the last time Japan crashed out of the Asia Cup at the quarterfinal level. The UAE advances to face hosts Australia in the semis, buoyant after their own 2-0 quarterfinal win over surprising upstarts China yesterday (Tim Cahill with the brace – including a nifty overhead goal). That game, by the way, drew an estimated 70 million + audience in China, this according to their network sources.
Update: it didn’t occur to me initially, but it may seem even more likely now that Japan crashed out of the tournament, head coach Javier Aguirre may be on his way out. There was some speculation recently that no matter the result, the JFA were preparing themselves to let Aguirre go over match fixing allegations that surfaced prior to the Asia Cup opening matches. Indications are the JFA will not immediately ax Aguirre, but (borrowing a phase from Takeuchi on twitter) his days are numbered.
Canberra Stadium meanwhile was witness to a 1-1 draw between historical rivals Iraq and Iran, Iran taking the lead in the first half but went a man down after Pooladi tangled with Iraqi keeper Hassan and received his 2nd yellow card. Ahmed Yasin’s goal kept Iraq in the game in the 56th minute and forced the game into extra time. Extra time: Iraq took the lead twice, only for Iran to find their equalizer each time – the last was within 2 minutes from the end of extra time -a PK awarded and successfully converted by Iran. At the end of extra time deadlocked at 3-3, Iraq pulled out ahead 6-7 to secure their date with Korea next Monday.
Looking ahead to next week:
Asia Cup Semifinals
Korea v Iraq Monday Jan 26 – 4am US EST / 6pm Korea Time / 8pm Sydney
Australia v UAE Tuesday Jan 27 -4am US EST / 6pm Korea Time / 8pm Newcastle
Should Korea advance, the title match is set for January 31st in Sydney. 3rd/4th place will be held on Jan 30th in Newcastle.
Here’s the video highlights from Iran v Iraq (we’ll have the Japan v UAE as soon as the AFC can get it out)
And here’s the Japan v UAE highlight:
In transfer news: it’s looking very imminent, Bolton has agreed on principal to a transfer deal for Lee Chung-Yong to go to Crystal Palace, this according to the Guardian. Neil Lennon announced yesterday that Bolton’s medical team’s evaluation on Lee’s tibia hairline fracture (incurred at the Asia Cup vs Oman) is relatively minor – expects him back to match fitness in a week or two. Crystal Palace is also reportedly trying to seal a deal to get Swansea striker Gomis. Crystal Palace recently hired Alan Pardew as their new manager, currently sit 13th in the Premier League table and are facing Southampton in the 4th round of the FA Cup.
Extra Time item [updated]: even though Japan crashed out of the Asia Cup, there’s no doubt they’ve executed a radical transformation of their football culture in a short number of years to become one of the beasts of Asian football. It wasn’t overnight and according to the Daily Mail, one reason Japan were able to cultivate new generations of technically sound footballers may point to the work of an American ex-pat coach. Tom Byers first arrived in 1988 and stayed ever since, proselytizing his brand of elevating technical skills for young Japanese kids. He has claimed Kagawa, a former pupil of his, as a testament to how he helped transform their football training culture. His secret: disguise the skills training – not in boring mundane drills, but as super fun activities. That may not sound revolutionary, but for an Asian culture steeped in uber-seriousness and OCD-esque adherence to code, let’s call it revolutionary-lite. The article goes on to note that the Chinese government is interested in his program with discussions underway to integrate it as part of their national curriculum. Jesus, Buddha and Mary, will we witness the rise of super technical and adept Chinese football in our lifetime? If his program succeeds, the answer might be yes.
According to the Tavern’s own Takeuchi, Byers’ ‘single-handed’ role transforming Japanese youth football is overhyped. Though Kagawa has been cited by Byers as his pupil, his real growth may have more to do with his years of academy training at Cerezo Osaka. Judging by the number of times Byers has been on TV pushing his program, there’s definitely an element of self propagandizing that’s at play. Hype man? Probably. Nevertheless, for the very young (age 3-7) Japanese kids he’s worked with, Byers program might still be positive step in the right direction. Simply due to it’s implementing Coerver (Dutch derived) footwork techniques as foundational skills, it’s hard to go wrong with that.
Turning attention to Korean youth football, the question on my mind regarding the grassroots level, are Korean kids intrinsically motivated to train, learn and play football?
And a follow up question, are there Coerver-based or similar type youth training programs or clinics in Korea? If so, are they widely available or even implemented as part of school curriculum?