ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — South Korea, Japan and defending champion Australia all made it through to the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup knowing there is plenty of room for improvement.
Even with the arrival of Tottenham forward Son Heung-min, South Korea struggled to beat Bahrain 2-1 in the last 16. The 2015 finalists needed an extra-time goal from Kim Jin-su to advance and set up a quarterfinal match against Qatar.
“It was a tough game,” Son said. “It’s all about attitude as well, and I’m a bit unhappy with our performance. I think we’re better than that.”
Australia needed a penalty shootout to get past Uzbekistan after 120 goalless minutes, and Japan was below its best in a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia.
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The quarterfinals take place on Thursday and Friday. The final will be on Feb. 1 in Abu Dhabi.
IRAN VS. CHINA
When China plays Iran on Thursday, many observers will looking at the benches.
China is coached by Marcello Lippi, who led Italy to the 2006 World Cup title, while Iran is led by former Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiroz.
Victory would give Lippi his best result in two years with China. He will leave the job after the Asian Cup.
Queiroz has been in charge of Iran since 2011. The 65-year-old Portuguese coach’s contract ends after the tournament and he has been widely linked with the vacant Colombia job.
Iran has been the most consistent team at the tournament so far and is chasing a fifth straight victory.
JAPAN VS. VIETNAM
Four-time champion Japan has won all four of its games so far.
The second-round win over Saudi Arabia came as a result of a strong defensive performance from a team which no longer has Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki to provide goals.
Japan, which reached the second round at last year’s World Cup, has yet to find its fluency in attack under coach Hajime Moriyasu but will still be expected to beat Vietnam in Dubai.
Vietnam is riding high. The penalty shootout win over Jordan in the previous round provoked street parties across the southeast Asian country to rival those that greeted the win in a regional championship in December.
AUSTRALIA VS. UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Australia will be without suspended influential playmaker Tom Rogic against tournament host United Arab Emirates in Al Ain on Friday.
The Socceroos have bounced back after an opening loss to Jordan but have yet to show their best form and have struggled against teams that have sat back on defense.
A lack of goals was a concern for UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni before the competition started. Those worries have eased somewhat after the 3-2 win over Kyrgyzstan in the second round, but the backline appeared vulnerable.
SOUTH KOREA VS. QATAR
South Korea, another team that has yet to show its best despite four straight wins, had to work hard to get past Bahrain.
Without injured captain Ki Sung-yueng, who has returned to Premier League club Newcastle, the South Koreans have struggled to either create or convert chances.
Son was peripheral in the last 16 and has yet to score in the tournament. He should find more space against Qatar in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Along with Iran, 2022 World Cup host Qatar has been the most impressive team in the tournament so far, winning all four games without conceding a goal.
Almoez Ali is the tournament’s leading scorer with seven goals.
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