Japan and Australia are considered as two of the best Asian team and big favorites to win the title. Today, both qualified for the next stage, but t's not definite that they can still threat their opponents in the title race.
Japan played first against Saudi Arabia. It was a match between two teams that won a combined number of 7 Asian Cup titles and both could reach the final easily.
Just like in their group stage matches, Japan were focused and disciplined. The Blue Samurais knew exactly what they need to do in order to win this knockout match – to score one more goal than your opponents.
An early goal by Takehiro Tomiyasu gave the advantage that Japan looked for and after that their style became more defensive. Saudi Arabia struggled to find the net, while Japan didn't actually try to score their second goal. At the final whistle, Japan won 1-0 and celebrated their 8th consecutive appearance at the top 8 teams of Asia.
Now they need to look to the further stages. Japan are clear favorites against Vietnam, but such defensive tactics can fail against the team that already surprised Jordan. Furthermore, they might face Iran at the semi final, a team with a great front line and a goalkeeper that barely concedes. Their task will be to find a way that Hajime Moriyasu game philosophy could be effective also in their next games.
During the group stage, Australia played badly even when they won, but still they managed to qualify from the second place. In their match today against Uzbekistan, you could even see how they are still not making any improvement.
Both teams presented a poor match and didn't score for 120 minutes. Uzbekistan played in a defensive style that Australia broke easily, but the Socceroos were not accurate enough.
This game was decided only by penalty shootouts, after an Australian 4-2 win and two saves by Matthew Ryan. Australia were better than Uzbekistan, but they can feel that they are close to missing on the title.
For Hector Cuper and Uzbekistan it's the end of the tournament, but it wasn't an upset. If Australia didn’t play well today, Uzbekistan played even worse. Cuper's tactics tonight looked like they prefer to end this game by penalty shootouts rather than score. His decision to substitute Eldor Shomurodov, one of the best Uzbek players, during the extra time is just one example for bad decisions that he took tonight and eventually led his team to the elimination.
At the next stage, Australia will face the UAE, which defeated Kyrgyzstan 3-2 after extra time. The Kyrgyz team can be proud on their performance during this Asian Cup, as they almost made a huge upset against the host nation.
Tursunali Rustamov’s goal on additional time was unexpected and Kyrgyzstan felt that they can qualify for the next stage. The decision of the referee to award a penalty kick to the UAE during the extra time made this mission too tough for them. Kyrgyzstan almost scored another equalizer in late minute, as their last shot in the extra time hit the crossbar.
The passion of Kyrgyzstan against the UAE, even though they were the underdogs before the match, is one of the things that were missing on the previous matches today. Maybe it’s because Kyrgyzstan played their debut Asian Cup, but for sure this kind of enthusiasm will ensure that it wouldn’t be their last.