Gap in quality

The Asian Cup is underway but the competition is yet to really spark… (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Channel,  January 14th, 2015

We are now 10 games into the 2015 Asian Cup, but in many ways it doesn’t really feel as if the tournament has gotten started.

While there have been a couple of mildly entertaining clashes – Iran v. Bahrain and UAE v. Qatar were both reasonably tasty affairs, although plenty of the entertainment in the latter came from comedy defending – it is clear that there is still a large divide between the best and worst sides in the continent.

Every game so far has produced a winner, and the majority of those victories have been executed at half-pace. Japan’s stroll against Palestine was one such example, and Australia have also been able to secure progression from Group A without breaking sweat.

Those out on the pitch maintain that things haven’t been plain sailing though, and after the Socceroos 4-0 romp over Oman on Tuesday night Mark Bresciano insisted that the games were all being hard-won.

“Probably the favourites have always won their games,” the Al Gharafa veteran said. “But I’m not sure about that. I still see that there’s quality in every side. In some patches you always saw some quality play from some individual, some technical touch or something. There’s always some quality play from every country. I think Asia’s still very competitive regardless of who you’re playing against.

Matt McKay, who scored a rare goal in the rout over the now-eliminated Omanis, believes margins will get finer from now on.

“Initially you’d like to think it’d be a bit cagey,” he told me after the game. “A lot of the sides have dominated games, but you’ll see it’ll tighten up getting towards the knockout stages.”

Former Urawa Reds defender Matt Spiranovic also feels that the victories will become progressively harder to come by.

The teams line up ahead of Australia v. Oman at Stadium Australia on Tuesday 13th January, 2015

“I think teams are building into it slowly and I think we’ll really see a change over the next few games,” he said.

Mark Milligan – another Australian with experience playing in the J.League, who like McKay found the net at Stadium Australia – did concede that not all teams were competing at the same level, though.

“You always see this when teams have to travel. Some teams travel a lot better than others so there’s a lot of different factors when you come into a tournament like this. I think it’s been good so far.”

One thing which several people – including Keisuke Honda – don’t think has been good is the refereeing.

Japan’s own Ryuji Sato had an interesting evening on Tuesday, and as well as not producing a red card for one horrific two-footed lunge by Ahmed Mubarek on Tim Cahill, he also disallowed Milligan’s goal to award the former JEF United man’s team a penalty, for a fractionally earlier foul on the Socceroos captain Cahill.

Milligan was able to convert the spot-kick and save Sato’s blushes, and was forgiving in the mixed zone.

“Obviously these things happen – I didn’t even see what happened because I was very focused on trying not to miss the ball,” he joked.

“Look, I’d probably complain a lot more if I missed the penalty. I think he just got a little bit excited with the whistle. It happens. Obviously he saw something and he made a decision. As I say all’s well that ends well. I think otherwise he was very good. The reffing has been no problem at all.”

The balance in play has left a fair bit to be desired though, and fingers crossed we see some more evenly-contested games over the next few days.


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