Three teams arrived to their matches today as clear favorites. Yet, the path of Australia, China and South Korea is completely different and their destiny in the Asian Cup would not be the same.
Australia tried to recover after they lost their opening match against Jordan. They played against Palestine, knowing they must win in order to keep their chances to qualify for the next stage.
The Socceroos actually didn't struggle. Palestine was weak during the first half and that was enough for them to score twice. The third goal in the 90th minute was just a bonus for Australia.
We got a chance to see the first good actions of Awer Mabil. The 23-year-old forward is one of the players that should be dominant in the Australian team. Mabil, who was born to South Sudanese parents in Kenya made a long way, through a childhood in a refugee camp and later in Australia, until his current position – playing in Denmark and scoring his debut Asian Cup goal.
After Jordan secured the first place, Australia have to defeat Syria in the last match. Syria has recently sacked their manager, so anything but winning this game would be a surprise, even if Australia will eventually qualify to the next stage from the third place.
In group C, China and South Korea won and clinched the two knockout spots. Unlike Australia, that didn't qualify but looks much better, these two teams still have a lot to worry about even after they qualified.
China defeated The Philippines 3-0, but it doesn't mean that they are really dominant team. In both of their wins, China didn't play well at the beginning of the match. Against Kyrgyzstan they conceded first and later on scored twice with a lot of help from the Kyrgyz goalkeeper. This time, only the inaccuracy of the Filipino players prevented another bad opening.
South Korea also failed to impress against Kyrgyzstan. It took a long time until South Korea scored the first goal and since than we see a lot of missed opportunities. When the goal is wide open and the front line shoots above the crossbar, it's just not the expected ability from one of the main contenders to win the title.
South Korea and China need to ask themselves what they need to change in order to be better at the knockout stage. South Korea are still not playing with their best players, as Son Heung-Min didn't join the team yet, but it doesn't necessarily mean that South Korea will play better with him.
For China, the question is whether they will be more focused in their defensive line. They conceded only once against Kyrgyzstan and The Philippines didn't manage to convert their chances, but against a bigger team it might end with many more conceded goals.
There are still 90 minutes until the end of the group stage. They will face each other in a battle for the first place of the group. This match will decide which team will get a better path at the next stage and who will need to play much better in order to stay in the race for the title.