Sunday, January 13, 2019

AFC 2019--Round Three

Ahlan Wa Sahlan Syndicate Members, 

Get set for simultaneous kick-offs as the group stage concludes. It’s been a great tournament for football fans everywhere, but an outrageously awesome one for your friendly neighborhood bookkeeper. 

For some inexplicable reason he finds himself on a prediction streak of “Nate Silver 2010 World Cup proportions.” 

We won't indulge in the self-aggrandizement for long. Given all of the bold predictions elucidated below, it will likely be eradicated by the next post. It should be briefly noted, however, that your friendly bookie came agonizingly close to a perfect round. Nine out twelve matches were forecast correctly. 

The three that weren’t didn’t miss by much either. The South Koreans barely failed to beat the spread thanks to multiple hits to the crossbar. The Omanis came in just short of drawing the Japanese after controversial refereeing. In the one line I knew would fail, Jordan took all three points against Syria.  

Okay. Moment over. Bookie obviously can’t see the Matrix and its poor manners to tip oneself. I’m just grateful to be having a better tournament than the two coaches who got shitcanned.   

My Updated Stats:

Spread: 13-11
Straight Up: 17-5-2

“Mail-Bag” First

Related image

Reader: Where can I find great highlights?

Vicey: I’m so very glad you asked, 111-M. As I remarked in last Summer’s State of the Syndicate Address, the Digital Age yields some positive resources. YouTube connects you instantly with our flat globalized world. Fans from every country post play-by-play calls in their native tongues mere minutes after every match’s completion.

Use such links responsibly, of course. I’ll only give you a slight taste as a means of emphasizing restraint and moderation. Streams can be as addictive as any debilitating drug. Suicide rates, which continue to fall globally, spike in a rich Western World where individuals are known to subject themselves to social isolation, soul-crushing anomie, and the lonely glow of their cybernated gadgetry. 

It de-humanizes. Careful not to take too many hits off the glass pipe!  

My new favorite “Boom Boom” Persian announcer:

How about this “Irrrrrraqi”:

No Clue where this guy is from, but I wish I were 1/262nd as cool as him

Reader: Still don’t have a Master’s, Vicey?

Vicey: It’s all good, 6-M. I’ve learned to live without money and prestige. Lack of crippling debt and paralyzing anxiety actually isn’t all that bad. I’m not worthy. Only better men like Yakov Smirnoff deserve that piece of paper.

Reader: DJ Tiesto isn’t Euro-Trash.

Vicey: Don’t argue with an expert 172-M. Those who compose moody vocal trance dross whilst cultivating and sustaining the perfect melancholic face qualify. Your friendly bookie is an authority on this subject. 

Reader: How can you say Adisak Kraisorn pairs well with Siroch Chattong when you’ve never seen it? Chanathip, Tanaboon, and Pokklaw have more experience. 

Vicey: Dammit, 135-M. Club teammates always pair better. I don’t care how they line up against the Hong Kong Reluctant Communist All Stars or the Children of the Brunei Harem team. Fucking Pokklaw? I’d take take Wiriyaudomsiri over fucking Pokklaw. Next you’ll be advocating Weerawatnodom or maybe even Chalermpong. Shiiit. While we’re at it, let’s open up a wormhole and bring back Jatutapattarpong, Kitpongsrithada, and Senamuang. Fucking Pokklaw.

(Note: This is how we roll over at the Syndicate. A typical conversation. One day we’ll know what we’re talking about. It’s essentially a bunch of guys who failed grade school math arguing over Analytic Combinatorics….and it’s beautiful ; )  


On to the “Analysis Section”. We’ll rank the countries. Same system as last round. 

A brief write-up for the bottom eight. The top sixteen get a draw up. Top-Five get a crest ; )

Note that at least one of the bottom eight will make it through as all teams in Crazy Group A remain in the top performing sixteen. For the record, bookie predicts the Vietnamese will make it through and Bahrain will be eliminated. Otherwise, I stand by my top sixteen. 

No country—not even the North Koreans—has been officially eliminated yet. 

 24) Korea DPR (Previously #22) 

Wow. Doesn’t get much worse than what we just saw. Kwang-hyok Rim and Il-jin Ri are surely condemned to long spells in a re-education camp after letting Akram Afif sodomize them like that. Now might be a good time for half of this team to defect. Bookie finds himself remiss when it comes to further describing this team’s suck-i-tude. Once one has declared a team “Jong Nam-Kim dead” is there really anywhere else to go?

After nearly a decade of discussing the Chollima, Bookie sincerely hopes their era of tangential prominence finally draws to a close. To think I once undertook tactical research of this team. As if they ever had a plan! In the introductory post of this chapter, I blithesomely reported that these dolts brought along their worst side ever. Into the sea they sink.

A long period of decline means we probably won’t have to discuss them until the 48-team-tournament in 2026. Hallelujah. Goodbye, comrades.

 23) Palestine (Previously #23) 

As my young niece would put it in her uniquely-ordered English, “when you will be done?”. Soon, my darling sunshine. Very soon. I just have to mention that they failed to get out of their own half for more than six total minutes on the day, completed all of three forward passes all afternoon, generated a paltry two shots (neither on target), and got inside the 18…ONCE! 

Ach!! It’s torture. They’re horrible. I’ve never seen a heat map with so many empty spaces before. Someone make it stop! Make Noureddine Ali the third coach to get axed in this competition. He can’t even select a keeper, let alone a squad. Exhume the corpses of the 1939 Maccabi Tel Aviv side and put them on the pitch. They’d do better than this bunch! 

Deep breaths, bookie.  

 22) The Philippines (Previously #20) 

Told you these rubes weren’t worth a damn. “Azkhal Fever” breaks easier than a loose load of tapayan jars. Spotting a falsely idolized “Media Darling” remains all too easy. Anytime one hears commentators lauding “a heroic defensive display”, check to see if they really mean “shitty dirty fouls and cowardly clearances”. Often times football chroniclers resort to “potentially threating on the counter” when they can’t think of any polite way of rephrasing, “these worthless ball-watchers couldn’t get a forward touch in at an orgy.”

Once again they got demolished on all fronts. We saw more rousing action from the grass itself. At a complete loss for something to talk about, a few live tickers started talking about the potential impact of Phil Younghusband as a substitute. Really guys? Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no “impact of Phil Younghusband” period; not unless the Azkhals are playing Brunei, Fiji, or Papua New Guinea. It doesn’t work like that at this level!   

No. Nothing there. Forget it. Don’t back this team, not even against the Kyrgyzs. 

 21) Syria (Previously #21)  

Bookie kicks himself for falsely fighting his own intuition. As was evident to anyone who watched the Palestine match, not a single solitary player on this team exhibited encouraging form. Analysis of this this once-favored team’s imminent nose-dive was spot on. Somehow I couldn’t find the gall to select two upset specials in a row at the onset of Round Two. It also seemed inconceivable that Mardikian could play like such a worthless wretch.

The biggest flops of the tournament. Everyone dropped the ball. More embarrassingly bad nonsense from Al-Soma, Osman, and Ajan. Stange should have started Al-Mawas and Khalfa again looked like he was given no clear instructions. The over-estimation of Omar Khrbin’s fitness levels is what truly skewed everything. It appeared the former Asian footballer of the year found some form pre-tournament and could stage a comeback in time. Not so as his touch and efforts were just dreadful. 

Adieu, Quaysons. Man did you ever blow it.  

 20) Turkmenistan (Previously #19) 

So very proud of my Emeralds for executing the perfect bellyflop. That was “Brazilian Bad”, again your northern rivals no less. Once again your friendly bookie rose early to do his prep work. Once again he parsed this team’s lineup and composed several feeble sentences on topics like Annaorazow’s potential move out the wing or Orazsähedov’s place in the re-organized attack. 

Once again they spared me some real splitting headaches. I wholeheartedly appreciate such a comprehensive failure. As a token of my gratitude I pledge not to forget Amanow’s goal for a full ten minutes after this chapter is complete.

Back to your yurts! 

 19) Yemen (Previously #24) 

Huge surprise here. Strangely enough, saw some legitimate signs of life from tournament’s minnows. No, you friendly bookie isn’t reaching either. The Yemenis generated a number of quality scoring chances against the Iraqis. Captain Ala Al-Sasi didn’t miss by much with an early header. Emad Mansoor unleashed some powerful drives. Ahmed Al-Saori, in addition to doing some really snazzy work on the right flank, tested the keeper twice. 

Ahmed Abdulrab and Mohammed Ba Rowis piqued your bookie’s interest with their own efforts. Ba Rowis was rather good on both sides of the ball. He contributed to the attack whilst also executing some incredible precise sliding tackles on his way back helping. The defense remained compact and organized for the most part. Nothing could be done about Mohand’s early brilliance and the own goal was just an unlucky deflection. Set-piece defending was surprisingly strong. 

Bookie fully expected the Qahtanis to continue to serve as doormats and debut this round as the undisputed worst team in the tournament. Now I think they might give the Vietnamese trouble.

 18) Lebanon (Previously #18) 

And that about sinks it. Just when I thought the Melki brothers couldn’t disappoint me anymore, they both utterly bombed in the most miserable fashion possible. Alexander deflected that back pass directly into Al-Muwallad’s path. Minutes later George flung himself at that excellent service like a floundering Wop. Worst bumbling brothers since Hugo and Igo.

We’ve heard zilch from all the players I initially acclaimed in the Primer Section. Maatouk’s name hasn’t been called once. El-Helwe couldn’t even put together a memorable half-chance. Ayass and Jradi were beneath nothing. The only memory we’ll have of Oumari will be his insipid total whiff on his own home club team's turf. Moni didn’t play. Haidar might as well of not. I completely forgot about him. 

At the end of the day your friendly bookie got lost in all those lovely individual cedar trees that sprouted from soil in so many different countries. For some reason it didn’t occur to me that trees germinating so far away from each another hardly constitutes a forest. 

Damned rouges failed to exact revenge for Saari ; (

 17) Vietnam (Previously #15) 

The Golden Dragons slide out of the Top Sixteen, mostly thanks to how easy it is for opposing teams to slide easily into their botched labiaplasty of a defense. Called this one right from the very beginning. Do Hung Dung and Nguyen Quang Hai again impressed, but Do Duy Manh and Bui Tien Bung were junk. Doan van Hau turned out to be a complete dud too. 

Zero offense generated by this side. Van Toan and Van Dai did nothing to alter the tenor of the match after being introduced. Queiroz didn’t have to shift any of his players a millimeter to adjust for their presence. The only attacking chance we even saw came from Nguyen Cong Phuong’s breakthrough, and he was clearly well offside.

So much for the 2018 Suzuki Cup and the eighteen-game unbeaten streak. Welcome to the Big League, boys. You’re not playing Malaysia and Myanmar anymore. Slight chance they might make it through after besting Yemen. Even if they do, they’ll tank quickly. 

 16) Oman 

(Previously #17)

Indeed. The Muscats have received precious little love since the beginning of this competition. We’ll accord them some here after they narrowly missed out on a draw up last round. Bookie recognizes meritorious achievements. These guys gave us something.

A much improved performance from the Reds, who can now feel doubly hard done by losses in which they largely outplayed their opponents. Starting Al-Ghassani improved the play of everyone else. He really should of scored. Hard luck. Nice use of Al-Yahyaei as the inveigler. Al-Hajri for the final push was inspired.

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Oman—PROJECTED (4-5-1) (1/3/19) 

                      Emad Al-Hosni
     A. M. Kano   Q. Hardan    R.I. Saleh
           E.M. Al Farsi     M. Al-Siyabi
Basil Al-Rawahi                        Saad Suhail
      Ali Salim Al Nahar  Ali Al-Busaidi 
                       Ali Al-Habsi

 Lineup—Oman—Match One (4-3-3) (1/9/19) 

                      Jameel Al-Yamadi
          R.I. Saleh                        K. Al-Hajri 
M. Al-Khaldi     Ahmed Kano  H. Al-Saadi
S. Al-Mukhaini                         A. Al-Musalami               
            K. Al-Braiki  A. Al-Busaidi      
                        Faiz Al-Rushaidi

 Lineup—Oman—Match Two (4-2-3-1) (1/13/19) 

                        Salaah Al-Yahyaei
     R.I. Saleh   M. Al-Ghassani   J. Al-Yahmadi
             Ahmed Kano   Harib Al-Saadi
   Ali Al-Busaidi                         Saad Al-Mukhaini             
                K. Al-Braiki  M. Al-Musalami               
                          Faiz Al-Rushaidi

I liked the reorganization of the back as well. Al-Musalamai proved a better partner for Al-Braiki, who atoned for all the errors in his previous match. Saleh, Al-Saadi, and Al-Mukhaini all earn high marks from me. A fine defensive effort and an audacious drive to equalize until the very end. Well done.  

 15) Kyrgyzstan 

(Previously #16)

Still very much alive even if after they failed miserably against South Korea. Bookie still sees enough strength in the roster to push them through with an adequate third-place finish. Being pitted against the Azkhals helps. Krestinin can’t possibly do worse in terms of squad selection next time and Lux will play better after his benching. They really needn’t suck so much. All that’s truly needed is a weaker opponent.  

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Kyrgyzstan—Match One (4-4-2) (1/7/19) 

               Vitalij Lux      Mirlan Murzaev
Edgar Bernhardt                   Bekzhan Sagynbaev  
             K. Z. Uuulu   F. Musabekov 
Tamirlan Kozubaev                 Valery Kichin               
         Akhlidin Israilov   Daniel Tagoe  
                       Pavel Matiash

 Lineup—Kyrgyzstan—Match Two (4-5-1) (1/11/19) 

                          Mirlan Murzaev
B. Sagynbaev       A. Sydykov          A. Israilov
               E. Bernhardt     F. Musabekov 
Valery Kichin                                K. Z. Uuluu               
                   T. Kozubaev   Daniel Tagoe  
                          K. Kadyrbekov

No choice but to revert to a more defensive posture against the mighty Taeguks. When squaring off against a country one hundred places higher than you in most ranking metrics, the only plan one can come up with entails placing players wherever the hell they can hope to match up against their opposite members and hoping for the best. 

That’s why this lineup looks so ridiculous. It’s merely designed for head-to-head marking. That being said, Bernhardt and Israilov got some useful exchanges going early. Sagnynbaev and Kichin weren’t terrible on the opposite flank. Uuluu improved on his previous round. 

They all worked well together until they found themselves behind. Then everyone tried to do too much. Kichin, Ululu, and Israilov started crowding the center. They were literally running into each other and affording the Koreans acres of space. Once again they just pissed on their own feet. I sense they won’t do that three times in a row. 

Kichin, Tagoe, and Musabekov are better players than their performance suggests. Lux and Kozubaev should reprise their normal roles to better effect. Duyshobekov proved he can be practical in relief. 

 14) Japan 

(Previously #14)

Directly in line with my all of my previous appraisals. They’re just not that good. When the bookie’s not feeling it, watch out. More torpor from the Samurai this round, particularly over the course of that shockingly disgraceful second half. This just isn’t our year, Samurai faithful. Get accustomed to the rebuilding rut. 

Unbelievable escape. Al-Ghassani did everything right with that roll in the 20th. Moriyasu’s men should have been down 0-1 promptly. In terms of the penalty awarded minutes later, what little contact there was took place outside of the box. Nagatomo’s handball in the 44th…what can I say? That’s about as flagrant as it gets. Two abominable refereeing decisions broke the Samurai way. 

Horrible shooting from Minamino and Doan. They couldn’t even lift the ball off the turf. Everything from them was grounded straight at the keeper. Terrible match for Shibasaki. Moving Tomiyasu up to split Shibaskaki and Harguchi, which none other than your friendly bookie advocated, produced nothing as the midfield produced nothing of quality. 

More rage on that in a sec….

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Japan—Match One (5-3-2) (1/9/19) 

           Yuya Osako           Takumi Minamino              
Ritsu Doan     Genki Haraguchi     Gaku Shibasaki
      Yuto Nagatomo                Hiroki Sakai
         Tomoaki Makino    Takehiro Tomiyasu
                          Maya Yoshida
                          Shuichi Gonda                   

 Lineup—Japan—Match Two (4-3-2-1) (1/13/19) 

                          Koya Kitagawa
           Ritsu Doan                   T. Minamino
Genki Haraguchi  T. Tomiyasu   Gaku Shibasaki         
Yuto Nagatomo                               Hiroki Sakai        
                 Wataru Endo  Maya Yoshida         
                            Shuichi Gonda                

What?!? It took the bookie forever to sort this one out. Finally, it looked to me like a false 9 with two anchoring strikers….which made no goddamned sense. Kitagawa up front fooled no one. He had zero impact on this game. As mentioned above, the midfield couldn’t gain any leverage. Sakai got crowded out every time he moved forward and Tomiyasu just took up space. 

We witnessed a little better after they got the substitutes on. The introduction of Muto, who put in an above average shift, saw them reform to a 4-4-2. Eventually they were able to get a 4-3-3 trident going once Ito came in five minutes from time. Both subs performed well. 

Hmmm…not sure what we’ll see next, but surely it won’t be this catastrophe. Might as well try for a 4-3-3 with Minamino center, Ito right, and Doan left. Place Osako back in the pocket and go for broke. Prospects are already written off. Just get on with it.  

 13) Bahrain 

(Previously #8)

Yeah…looks to be one of those instances where they simply don’t have the players. Nice tactics from Soukup in the opening match. Bookie had words of praise for several players after the surprise opener. Significant downgrades for many this go-around. Al-Shamsan lost his focus early with the mistimed header and dropped off the radar completely as the game wore on. Madan was another one who seemed to vanish as the Reds retreated deeper in their own half. 

Al-Romaihi proved with his woeful attempts at goal that he’s no Abdulla Yusuf Helal. Helal himself looked weak, indecisive, and slow in recuperation after being introduced late on. He doesn’t have enough time to regain his form. Al-Hayam and Resa Isa lost their aerial prowess, conceded far too many duels, and had to play catch up for most of the second half. 

One wonders how different matters would be had the Emeratis not been awarded that late penalty falsely. Probably not much as this round’s performance proves most of their positives had to be aberrant.

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Bahrain—Match One (4-4-2) (1/5/19) 

              Jamal Rashid  M. Al-Romaihi
 K.H. Al-Aswad                           Ali Madan
                 S.D. Saeed    Ab. Al-Safi 
 Ahmed Juma                               H. Al-Shamsan
       Waleed Al-Hayam    Sayeed Resa Isa              
                   Sayeed Schubbar Alawi

 Lineup—Bahrain—Match Two (4-2-3-1) (1/10/19) 

                Mohammed Al-Romaihi
S.D. Saeed       M. Marhoon        Ali Madan
           K.H. Al Aswad    Ab. Al-Safi 
 Ahmed Juma                               H. Al-Shamsan
        Waleed Al-Hayam    Sayeed Resa Isa              
                   Sayeed Schubbar Alawi

No changes to the back that I can discern, other than Resa Isa spending a little more time on the flanks. Marhoon resembled a bloody buffoon with his goalward efforts. He did better crossing from the outside. Saeed should have occupied his spot from the beginning. Don’t know why Rashid was pulled. Bookie thought he complemented Al-Romaihi well up top.

Juma ended up starting, but one could tell he was far from his best. He got yanked for attacker Sami Al-Husaini in the 64th, whom I don’t even recall getting a touch of the ball. Bad start. Worse sub.

Not seeing a clear way forward for these guys with so many issues. India won’t be a pushover.

 12) Australia 

(Previously #13)

The more your friendly bookie ponders this team, the more they remind him of the early form of the Froggies last Summer. Shades of that “blasé-bleu” group stage performance crept in as your friendly bookie fought to stay interested in their latest fixture. Graham Arnold’s men specialize in passing the ball backwards, establishing attacking intent only in accidental spurts, and looking generally disinterested with proceedings on the pitch. 

Of course we all know how that turned out. What looks to be an apathetically aloof side can always switch on when it matters Before skewering these spacey shrimpies, Bookie considered it prudent to dig up some of his French “Mini-Obits” from the previous chapter. We’ll have a look just for shits and giggles.

From WM 2018—Day Eight Recap:   

Les Bleaus once again struggled to maintain possession, passing was choppy at best, and the young fullbacks just aren’t working. Liked Hernandez’s work in the first half. One still can’t ignore that neither one of them were running much at all after the restart. 

Once again Les Bleaus were lucky to escape with the points. The points are all that matter at the end of the day. It’s not impossible they can find their peak later, but later may never come if they can’t get rolling. Bookie not liking what he saw today, especially Griezman’s pronounced dip. 

Can’t trust them in this state. Cest le Merde ; ( 

From WM 2018—Day Thirteen Recap:

Griezman’s form worsens with every match. Giroud isn’t connecting with anyone. Kante’s just not built for the offensive flow. Pathetic performance from this squad today. They’re completely lost without Pogba. That much is crystal clear. 

Ugh. Wish you weren’t here, Froggies. If you came to play you’d be welcome, but this isn’t World Cup worthy stuff.

With that out of the way, I’m happily throw these prosaic prawns on the fucking grill. What the shit kind of game was that?!? I actually nodded off for twenty full minutes at the end of the first half. Nothing in my notebook from the second 45 as NOT a DAMNED thing happened until the added time goal. 

Bookie digs deep to find a talking point amidst that heaping pile of rubbish. He digs still. Even the goals failed to impress. Rogic’s set up for Maclaren was okay, but he only had space because Tamer Seyam couldn’t stop falling down. Iknonomidis for Mabil a minute later wasn’t very pretty when one saw how unchallenged they both were. Giannou in the 90th…what’s a bookie to say? Everyone had already capitulated by that point.  

Fuck it. We’ll look at the lineups.

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Australia—Match One (4-2-3-1) (1/6/19) 

                         Jaime Maclaren
Robbie Kruse       Tom Rogic        Awer Mabil
      Massimo Luongo       Mark Milligan    
  Aziz Behich                                   Josh Risdon
           Trent Sainsbury      Milos Degenek
                           Mathew Ryan

 Lineup—Australia—Match Two (4-2-3-1) (1/11/19) 

                         Jaime Maclaren
C. Ikonomidis       Tom Rogic        Awer Mabil
          Mark Milligan            Jackson Irvine
  Aziz Behich                                   Josh Risdon
           Trent Sainsbury      Milos Degenek
                           Mathew Ryan

Aussie Contingent Members are sure to love Kruse’s drop. Ikonomidis builds upon his earlier performance to surely secure the starting spot. It appeared the solution to Rogic’s ball hogging was to move Milligan over and tap Irivine to take over for the unfocused Luongo. 

Bookie largely liked what he saw from Irvine, who fulfilled the sort of release-valve purpose I had in mind in my original projection. It definitely freed up Rogic to control smarter and more creatively. Somehow Arnold needs to get Milligan back to his natural position, however, after another desolate day for the midfield. 

Sainsbury’s suspension should force his hand. Tough to find someone to fill the vacancy as the Roos are thin down the middle. Amini or Leggo don’t excite. Perhaps Luongo gets his job back. 

 11) Thailand 

(Previously #12)

Make that two of two in terms of successfully Upset Alert Lines. Your friendly bookie implored you to stay with this team even as their federation did its utmost to sow disarray. There was every reason to expect a turnaround under interim trainer Sirisak Yodyadthai. Players generally respond well when a long-term assistant coach gets promoted. It helps tremendously when said coach speaks their language. Cohesive communication enabled him to make all the right moves.

Obviously he needed to shore up the goalkeeping issue first. Not exactly an easy task considering he had only a completely green kid and a third-choice 34-year-old with ten caps. The defense, already chaotic after Rajevac inexplicably dropped Notchayi, had to be completely revamped. Serious decisions regarding the underperformers had to be undertaken. Whether or not to give up on Songkrasin and Chaided loomed exceptionally large for the attack-build. In the midfield, neither Thitipan nor Dechmitr could complain about getting dropped if he deemed it necessary. 

Bookie admits he would have mostly made drastically different calls. Yodyadthat showed remarkable restraint in sticking with Songkrasin, Thitipan, and Pansa. I advocated both Keserat and Promrak, but wouldn’t have kept Bunamthan and definitely wouldn’t have dropped Chaided. Probably wouldn’t have went with Tedsungnoen either.

Shows how much I know.

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Thailand—Match One (4-3-2-1) (1/6/19)  

                      Teerasil Dangda    
 S. Chaided     C. Songkrasin   A. Kraisorn
    Sanrawat Dechmitr  Thitipan Puangchan  
T. Bunmathan                                    Tristan Do 
              C. Kerdkaew  P. Hemviboon
                     Chatchai Budprom

 Lineup—Thailand—Match Two (5-4-1) (1/10/19) 

                       Teerasil Dangda    
 C. Songkrasin                            A. Kraisorn
    Tanaboon Kesarat  Thitipan Puangchan  
T. Bunmathan  S. Thongsong A. Promrak Tristan Do 
                      Pansa Hemviboon   
                   Siwarak Tedsungnoen

Burying Pansa behind four stay-at-home types effectively smothered Bahraini hopes of generating anything from their pressure. Bunmathan completely redeemed his earlier lackluster efforts, proving he didn’t need to be in his regular position to tackle precisely. He was by far their best defender. Thitipan won practically all of his midfield battles and got forward to set up that sublimely skilled goal.

It seemed to me like Songkrasin and Kraisorn both shifted inward early on the second half. That allowed Do start carving out more space on the right flank with an aim to target both of them. It worked wonders as all three combined for a plethora of pretty chances down the stretch. Top grades for that trio. By all means they should have doubled their advantage in the 72nd.

Looking ahead to the next match, all the first half defensive work came at a cost of twelve fouls and four yellow cards. Thongsong, Pansa, and Promrak got booked. Pansa earns a suspension for the next match. Wiriyadomsiri may be needed after all. Kesarat and Dechmitr played about equally, meaning the midfield starters still need to be sorted out.

 10) India 

(Previously #2)

Yes, yes. It’s back down to earth boys. Bookie just couldn’t back you for the stunner, even though he at times felt like you could have pulled it off. Thanks for the sold-out stadium in any case! I actually find it rather disconcerting that Blue Tiger Enthusiasts now take to the web to tear down the tactical arrangement. The U.A.E. loss principally came down to hard luck. Two crossbar hits and a couple of world-class saves from Khalid Eisa meant it could have easily broke the other way. 

The Indians brought all the requisite heart, style, and hustle to the encounter. Issues there were. We’ll discuss those in a moment. Bookie simply must reiterate that most of the Ashokra eleven—including and especially Ashique Kuruniyan—deserve higher marks than reflected in the post mortems. For chrissaske, Ashique nearly pulled off a monumentally brilliant opening goal. He continued to surge late on Chhetri and Udanta were magnificent in this oddsmaker’s opinion. Jhingan’s misses hurt, but at least he made his presence known.

We arrive at the aforementioned issues. Jhingan and Anas wasted a whole half’s worth of fine defensive work in conceding that first goal. Some off the weakest cowardly marking you’re every likely to see. It’s like they wanted no part of it and expected Kotal and Thapa to teleport tack back. Halder and Bose were nowhere to be found either. Everyone sucked there Ugh.  

Nevertheless, the back four remained resilient until they started to get really gassed around the hour mark. That’s when things truly fell apart. Subhasish precipitated the downfall by slowing to a crawl and recklessly neglecting his positioning. Pretty soon Kotal melted down and Bose quit. Surprised the Emeratis only scored one additional goal in the last twenty minutes.

Before the collapse it was a commendable performance from all players. I contend this team has plenty left to show us. They’re far from finished! Bookie hath ordained it.       

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—India—Match One (4-4-2) (1/6/19) 

        Sunil Chhetri   Ashique Kuruniyan
 Halicharan Narzary        Udanta Singh             
         Pronay Halder  Anirudh Thapa
Anas Edathodika                        Pritam Kotal
        Subhasish Bose Sandesh Jhingan
                    Gurpreet Sandhu           

 Lineup—India—Match Two (4-4-2) (1/10/19)  

        Sunil Chhetri   Ashique Kuruniyan
 Halicharan Narzary        Udanta Singh             
          Anirudh Thapa  Pronay Halder
Subhasish Bose                        Pritam Kotal
        Anas Edathodika Sandesh Jhingan
                    Gurpreet Sandhu           

Only minor tactical tweaks from Constantine. Neither worked, but one wouldn’t describe them as catastrophic or irreversible. To my eyes the switch of Thapa and Halder did accomplish much for the latter. Another suspect performance from Pronay Halder. We’ve still got a serious problem there. The Tigers can demonstrably weather onrushes provided the defensive midfield isn’t breached. He keeps getting beat and the roster doesn’t have a solid replacement candidate.

No way we’ll see Anas Edathodika inside again. That was the switch that led to the opening goal. Bose shouldn’t be buccaneering around the flanks so much as it leaves them too easily exposed. Jhinghan’s work at the back wasn’t great either. We’ll see re-thinks here. 

In terms of Constantine’s substitutions, bookie basically thinks he got it right. Ashique needed to stay on the pitch. Lalpeklua made a meaningful contribution. It’s honestly unfair to evaluate the other two. Borges and Jackichand Singh were brought on far too late to make a difference. Blame Constantine for hesitation if anything. 

 9) China PR 

(Previously #11)

A significant upgrade in this oddsmaker’s view. Bookie sees things falling into place for Lippi and Team Dragon. Too many pundits claim they lacked consistency and rhythm. It’s no coincidence that these are the same voices who hope to turn the Philippine team into a newsworthy item. Your friendly bookie cringed as he saw them talk down the South Koreans last round. They employ the same poorly disguised trickery here.

Bookie again identifies and rebuffs this nonsense. The Chinese were well-organized in possession, fantastic on the flanks, and compact defensively. Chances galore. Lei nearly grabbed a Hat Trick.  Plenty of alert creativity on display, even from the old grey hairs like Zheng Zhi, Feng Xiaoting, Zhao Xuri, and Hao Junmin. All of those old dudes, who I affectionately referred to as “methuselahs” in my previous post, earn top marks from me for today’s performance. 

When initially building the lineup for this country’s primer section, I found it somewhat challenging to spread youth about the file. That didn’t mean I couldn’t build a construct a decent eleven. Lippi, being a wizened professional, obviously can and has done it even better.   

Thirty-two-year-old Gao Lin, in spite of being a tick slower, played perfectly fine. His adroit touches and unselfish use of the ball were crucial Wu Lei’s first goal. Hao Junmin ran his ass off and served up both Lei’s goals. He also took the corner that, with a flick on from Xi, set up fellow old dude Dabao in the 78th. Feng Xiaoping and Zhao Xuri stood their ground well. What a match from captain and midfield general Zeng Zhi. He doesn’t look 38 to me!

A changing of the guard is inevitable, but stabilizing veteran support can be a plus at times. Wu Lei may have stolen the show with his brace and that first-time trike, but the supporting cast aren’t a bunch of slow-pokes.
S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—China—Match One (5-3-2) (1/7/19) 

                 Wu Lei    Gao Lin      
 Jin Jingdao                                Wu Xi  
                    Chi Zhongguo
Liu Yang                               Zhang Linpeng
  Feng Xiaoting Shi Ke  Zhang Chengdong 
                     Yan Jungling

 Lineup—China—Match Two (3-5-2) (1/11/19) 

                      Wu Lei    Gao Lin      
 Hao Junmin                                         Wu Xi  
       Liu Yang        Zheng Zhi     Zhao Xuri
                  Shi Ke             Z. Linpeng
                          Feng Xiaoting
                           Yan Jungling

Madly interesting. At first I could hardly believe Hao Junmin and Zheng Zhi were starting. Thought for sure all the action on the left would come from Liu Yang. Didn’t see them deviate from this shape much. Makes sense as they had no reason to against such an opponent. 

Looks like the defensive unit is largely set. Think we’ll see the 4-3-3 with Yu Dabao against the Koreans. Lippi won’t have a choice but to go all in.   

 8) U.A.E. 

(Previously #10)

Back in the saddle even without Ahmed Khalil. Your friendly bookie still can’t figure out why the talismanic striker isn’t starting. No reports of an injury or falling out have surfaced. We’ve also seen precious little of Saif Rashid. Old man Zaccheroni plausibly plays the long game, much in the same way he did when leading Japan to the 2011 Continental Championship.

Giving younger players a chance to grow into the positions over the course of the tournament can yield desirable results. Track back a page to read your bookie’s assessment on Khalfan Mubarak from the first round. Oops. I was convinced he got yanked as a failed rookie experiment. Not at all. The Italian Maestro was simply grooming him for a better position. Seeing his name in the starting lineup made no sense…until I realized that he switched places with Amer. 

This structure worked infinitely better. Mabkhout caught fire with feeds from both Mubarak and Salmeen. He even dropped back himself a bit to let them get some legwork in. Though there were some scary moments in the first half, the Whites were eventually able to control the tempo via regulated distribution out of central midfield. Saw a nice flurry from them between the 30th and 39th   Both goals were worthy of the tournament top ten. Perfectly executed touches in the lead ups.

Another strong performance turned in from Ghanim. I really like the way Bandar patrols the right flank, often bursting forward at opportune occasions. A couple of game saving tackles from Juma’s replacement Ismail Ahmed. He was definitely the right man for the job on this day. 

So long as we’ve seen the last of that dreaded trap I’ll return to my original prognoses. A run to the final remains possible.  

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—U.A.E.—Match One (4-3-2-1) (1/5/19) 

                           Ali Mabkhout 
K. Esmaeel      A. Abdulrahman    I. Al-Hammadi
                Ali Salmeen   Khalfan Mubarak  
A. H. Saleh                                              B.M. Al-Ahbabi                 
                  Fares Juma     Khalifa M. Ghanim
                              Khalid Eisa

 Lineup—U.A.E.—Match Two (4-3-2-1) (1/10/19) 

                            Ali Mabkhout 
K. Esmaeel      Khalfan Mubarak    I. Al-Hammadi
                Ali Salmeen   A. Abdulrahman  
A. H. Saleh                                           B.M. Al-Ahbabi                 
               Ismail Ahmed  Khalifa M. Ghanim
                             Khalid Eisa

Can we even find room for Khalili? Bookie isn't so certain. Al-Hammadi and Esmaeel both had average days, but they should probably remain in the mix as they’re able to switch fields so easily and often. Amer didn’t completely look like himself, but he’s too valuable to sacrifice.

Thailand gives them some room to experiment, but this may very well be their final shape.

 7) Iraq 

(Previously #4)

Why aren’t they ranked higher? Bookie assesses the 3-nil fixture against Yemen as less of an assertive victory than the scoreline intimates. If I may weigh into the debate over Mohanad Ali’s age, I think he’s very likely a teenager. His almost superhuman shake off of five defenders before thumping home that cracker of a finish undeniably dazzled. Nevertheless, he had some pretty choppy moments later on and had trouble with his timing down the stretch. 

Fabulous all-around match from Bashar Resan. He was all over the place. Unfortunately, I don’t think he knew much about that goal that he’s credited for. It took a wicked deflection off Mudir Al-Radaei. He also ran way too hard early, appearing deflated for much of the second half. 

Big dip in form for Safaa Hadi. He didn’t really seem threatening on any of the breaks and engaged in some poor fouling. Same applies to Humam Tariq. He didn’t look anywhere near as scary as in the previous match. He also couldn’t seem to catch the rhythm of the match and stay onside. 

Hussein Ali and Ahmed Yasin both got dispossessed way too often. The former didn’t do much in terms of passing. It’s almost as if he couldn’t even see the lanes The latter’s touch appeared off. Some genuinely bad dribbling from him in both halves. 

Still a very talented team we’re discussing here. Congratulations to Alaa Abass (perhaps the only promising young phenom I didn’t mention) on his first international goal. Dawood and Ayman will get their chance too. It’s just that the inexperience showed in this round. Bookie thus drops them a bit.

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Iraq—Match One (5-3-2) (1/8/19) 

         Mohanad Ali  Ahmed Yasin
Hussein Ali                        Safaa Hadi
                   Osama Rashid
  Ali Adnan     A. Ibrahim     Waleed Salim
          Ali Faez Frans Dhia Putros  
                      Jalal Hassan

 Lineup—Iraq—Match Two (4-1-4-1) (1/12/19) 

                         Mohanad Ali
Hussein Ali A. Yasin  S. Hadi  Humam Tariq                     
                         Bashar Resan
  Rebin  Sulaka                          Waleed Salim
                Ali Adnan Alaa Ali Mhawi  
                          Jalal Hassan

One doesn’t see this formation often. Many times us analysts just report it as a 4-5-1. In this case, however, Bashar Resan clearly occupied his own plane. It worked up to a point. Fabulous distribution from him. 

However, he’s undoubtably a vivacious player who leaves it all on the field. Placing him so far back meant he had too much ground to cover to catch up on the play. Even lionhearted anchors aren’t indefatigable. 

Bookie would like to see him further up, maybe even in Yasin’s place. Mhawi did fine where he was. Adnan should get back to the fullback position. Faez can come back. 

 6) Qatar 

(Previously #9)

Just how good are they? Never an easy task to assess a team’s true worth after they’re gifted a “Playground Day” ten minutes into the match. When the result of a fixture gets decided so early, the wingbacks can simply chill and engage in playful long-switches all afternoon long. That’s what we saw today. Little more than a breezy day in the backyard.

The best a bookie can do is breakdown the skill moves associated with all the goals. Abdullah’s first tally came at the end of really sharp square ground cross from Afiif. He handled his first touch with aplomb. Nothing to critique either there or on the second goal. What a radiant rainbow switch from Afif. Abdullah with the slippery slick back heel finish. So far so good. 

As shrewd as Afif’s lob in the 43rd was, it wasn’t that hard to beat a keeper so disastrously overcommitted. Khouki barely had to glance for the finish. That one was soft. Same applies to Abdullah’s third in the 54th. The keeper again senselessly got his stance all wrong and Chol-bom Kim didn’t even run to clear the ball off the line when he obviously could have reached it. Two strong. Two soft.

Amazing technique from Abdullah for the Super Hat Trick in 60th and a splendiferous run from Abdelkarim Hassan up the total of quality goals to four. Absurdly deft finish from the talisman on the latter. That's four strong goals in total.

Looks like they’re pretty damn good after all. Damn. 

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Qatar—Match One (3-4-3) (1/9/19) 

                      Almoez Abdullah
Akram Afif                                 H. Al-Haydos
       Karim Boudiaf   Boualem Khouki
    Abdulkarim Al-Ali  Assim Madibo                 
   B. Al-Rawi   Tarek Salman    Pedro Miguel      
                         Said Al Sheeb

 Lineup—Qatar—Match Two (4-2-3-1) (1/13/19) 

                     Almoez Abdullah 
   Akram Afif      B. Khouki     H. Al-Haydos                              
        Abdulaziz Hatem  Assim Madibo
Abdelkarim Hassan                     Pedro Miguel                     
                  T. Salman B. Al-Rawi
                        Said Al Sheeb

Sanchez stated in his press conference that he wouldn’t change much tactically. Turns out he was a liar. Madibo and Khouki get reassigned. Boudiaf and Al-Ali are dropped. It’s almost as if he read the tactical report in the last section! 

Naturally there’s nothing to critique about this arrangement. Not on a day like today. We’ll have to wait to see how it stacks up against tougher opposition.

 5) Uzbekistan 

(Previously #7)

Way to go, White Wolves! You do your paternal oddsmaker proud. We’re headed to the semi-finals! We’ve seen our fair share of romps in this tournament, but only Hector Cuper’s men put together what the bookie deems to be the best “team goals”. 

Sidikov’s first counts as prime example. Ahmedov burst forward with turbocharged pace, absolutely scorching everyone in his path. He then threaded in a needle for Khamdamov who crossed directly onto the goalscorers boot.  

These guys know to pick out their colleagues. Another sublime through ball two minutes later. This time it was Shukurov for Shomurodov. Masharipov for Zoteev on a dippy little flank slider to eventually set up the third goal a bit later. Two minutes later, Masharipov again unleashing a streaking Shomurodov on a thirty-yarder for the fourth before half time. 

No goals in the second half, but plenty of more salacious through balls. Kashimov for Shomurodov. Ahmedov for Masharipov. Khamdamov for Alibaev. Ismailov nearly scored on a link up. Shukorov got denied only by the post.

When the White Wolves are making serious bank for some of you during a deep tournament run, you’ll be glad you friendly bookie took such copious notes.

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Uzbekistan—Match One (4-2-3-1) (1/9/19) 

                        Marat Bikmaev
J. Masharipov     J. Sidikov     O. Shukurov   
           Odil Ahmedov   Sardor Rashidov
 Oleg Zoteev                          A. Shorakhmedov
              Egor Krimits  Anzur Ismailov
                         Ignatiy Nesterov                    

 Lineup—Uzbekistan—Match Two (4-2-3-1) (1/13/19) 

                    Eldor Shomurodov
J. Masharipov   J. Sidikov   O. Shukurov
            O. Ahmedov       D. Khamdamov
 Oleg Zoteev                         A. Shorakmedov      
           I. Tuktakhodjaev A. Ismailov
                       Ignatiy Nesterov           

Khamdamov spent a little more time forward than the diagram might suggest. Ahmedov and Masharipov were pretty mobile, but mostly stuck to the left. So glad Shomurodov got the start and Alibaev got a chance to get his feet wet. 

The Emeralds were able to find some space behind the centerbacks late in the match, but that shouldn’t matter as Krimits will return. Massive match for the fullbacks. Might as well leave them be.

 4) Saudi Arabia 

(Previously #5)

A consistent enough match moves them up a tad. Much to my chagrin, they’ve convinced me. Al-Bishi, Otafy, and Al-Briek put together a plethora of smooth passing sequences. Al-Briek himself owned the right side, showed robust skills from distance, and proved himself highly capable on set-pieces. The Green Falcons head to the Knockouts for the in twelve years. It’s deserved. Bookie can’t dispute that. 

Bahebri is really tenacious on that right side. Man did he ever have a preposterously good day. Loved all of the crosses he telegraphed in along with his own vicious tomahawk in the 54th. Difficult to describe how he cleverly drew in that defender before setting up the second goal. The only word that comes to mind is “bitchslap”. Guess we’ll use it. Don’t let Bahebri force you to abandon your marking. You’re liable to “Bahebri Bitschlaped” 

Fair to say that all the bookie’s talk of them being vulnerable to counters because of their “triplicate break” turned out to be hogwash. When I wrote that I incorrectly assumed that the Al-Muwallad had failed as the primary attacker and Otayf would be used as the false 9. 

It doesn’t work that way Otayf stays put, only venturing forward if Fatil and Al-Bulaihi close ranks behind and he has Al-Briek on the overlap. As predicted, the defensive corps grows in confidence. They only looked a little iffy on that one long throw from Al Zein.

Grrr….they’re getting even better.    

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown 

 Lineup—Saudi Arabia—Match One (4-5-1) (1/8/19) 

                           Fahad Al-Muwallad
 Hosein Al-Mogahwi                      Hattan Bahebri
        Abdulaziz Al-Bishi       Salem Al-Dawsari
                              Abdullah Otayf
Y. Al-Shahrani M. Al-Fatil A. Al-Bulaihi  M. Al-Briek 
                         Mohammed Al-Owais

 Lineup—Saudi Arabia—Match Two (4-5-1) (1/12/19) 

                           Fahad Al-Muwallad
 Hosein Al-Mogahwi                      Hattan Bahebri
        Abdulaziz Al-Bishi       Salem Al-Dawsari
                              Abdullah Otayf
Y. Al-Shahrani M. Al-Fatil A. Al-Bulaihi  M. Al-Briek 
                          Mohammed Al-Owais

Nothing but slight positioning changes to report. Al-Dawsari spent more time out wide than in the previous encounter. Fatil, Al-Bulaihi and Al-Briek rotated a bit. Other than that, it was much the same plan. 

Qualification may be assured, but we’ll likely still see a similar scheme against Qatar. No way their resting the top guns against one of their “infidel” countries.

 3) Jordan 

(Previously #6)

Welcome to the fourth installment of “Your friendly bookie rapidly falls in love with Vital Borkelman’s System”. Dismissed only ten days ago as an incoherent jumble of confusing midfielders, I came to the realization after the first match that he deliberately aimed to confuse the competition with a plethora of break-capable players. This fully frees up shining star striker Al-Taamari. Incredible finish from the young gun in today’s match. The Chivalrous break into the Top Five with gusto. They must officially be labelled contenders now, brothers.  

I began to get a sense of how it works in last round’s analysis. Among other impressive traits, I witnessed the “marvelous flexibility” of players like Murjan, Abdel-Rahman, and Bani Yaseen as they fluidly changed positions. Add to that the powerful range of Al-Bakhit and Al-Rawashdeh as well as elegantly devised set-piece plays and you’ve got pure poetry in motion. 

We saw it all come together in their latest command performance. All of the midfield rotation produces surging attacks. Murjan lead so many great charges right up until the final minute. Defensive units find themselves hard-pressed to mark the wingers as the fire warning shot after warning shot. Al-Bakhit in particular can not only fire off lasers, but executed luxurious dekes, step-overs, and dances when he went deep. 

Taamari can mop up rebounds or simply position himself for the deft finish as he did in the first goal. Downright foxy set up from Rawashdeh on that one. Those two are clicking together sensationally, nearly linking up twice more before it was over.

More sexy-set-piece delight on display throughout the full 90 minutes. The Belgian really works his lads hard on the training pitch. We saw plenty of great selections from the repertoire, including that delightful one in the 16th and the crashing corner that led to Khattib’s emphatic goal.

Few had the Jordanians as high as this bookie did after the first round. There can be no doubt that they belong here now.

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Jordan—Match One (4-2-3-1) (1/6/19) 

                        Musa Al-Taamari
  Y. Al-Bakhit  Saeed Al-Murjan  Y. Al-Rawashdeh            
         Khalil Bani Attiah  Baha' Abdel-Rahman            
Salem Al-Ajalin                              Feras Shelbaieh
             Tareq Khattab    Anas Bani Yaseen
                             Amer Shafi 

 Lineup—Jordan—Match Two (4-2-3-1) (1/10/19) 

                        Musa Al-Taamari
  Y. Al-Bakhit  Saeed Al-Murjan  Y. Al-Rawashdeh            
         Khalil Bani Attiah  Baha' Abdel-Rahman            
Salem Al-Ajalin                              Feras Shelbaieh
              Tareq Khattab    Anas Bani Yaseen
                             Amer Shafi 

Beyond the usual centerback/midfielder rotations, I didn’t really observe many stark changes in player assignments for the first thirty minutes. Al-Taamari tended to the right and Al-Rawashdeh floated center a tad, but not much more than they did against Australia. As noted above, Murjan came forward a great deal more, but still stayed in his central lane.

The fullbacks deviated less, mostly because Borkelmans switched to what looked like a protective 4-5-1 after the Samir substitution. Attiah couldn’t possibly hope to replicate his previous behemoth match, but still roved and hustled like a champ. 

Matters now get very interesting as, having already secured passage to the Knockouts, Borkelman will engage in some serious tinkering. Al-Taamari won’t figure in to the next arrangement he serves a double-yellow suspension. Players further down on this very deep squad have something to prove too. Faisal, Rateb, and Samir should get their chance to shine.

 2) South Korea 

(Previously #3)

Still satisfied, brothers. Bravo, Taeguks. Another credible display leaves your friendly bookie as sanguine as ever about the prospects of his selected favorites. Some actors demonstrated a dip in form, but no one gave the bookie cause for overt concern. Kyrgyz keeper Kutman Kadyrbekov stands accused of some medieval sorcery. Bookie isn’t sure what spell he cast on those goalposts. He must of rubbed something on the woodwork to ensure our Koreans would strike the bar thrice in three minutes!

More effective work from Koo Ja-Cheol in central midfield. Oh so much fun to watch the attack. He distributed well, kept it pacey, and maximized pitch width with his precision balls out to the flank. Though his finishing left something to be desired and there were a few too many deliveries to offside players, I loved how silky smooth he was for the majority of the match. 

Hwang Ui-Jo didn’t miss a beat. He made his presence known on just about every forward surge. I particularly liked his curler in the 20th. The star striker can clearly bend it with extraordinary power. Even better stuff from him aerially. Didn’t look like his effort in the 67th crossed the line, but what a thunderous attempt it was. Christ, is he ever in unbelievable form. One wonders if Son Heung-Min can even claim a place in the starting eleven at this rate. 

Textbook defending from the back four, who also did an excellent job stretching out their counterparts on the retaliatory rushes and came all the way up to take a few chances themselves. Hong Chul, and Kim Min-Jae were both phenomenal. Kim Young-Gwon and Lee Yong turned in a great shifts too, even if the former deserves some demerits for sloppier work up front.

Stick with them. They constantly create openings for themselves, giving one the sense that they can decisively strike at any moment. Don’t bet against the “Eye of the Asian Tiger”. 

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown 

 Lineup—South Korea—Match One (4-2-3-1) (1/7/19) 

                            Hwang Ui-Jo
Hwan Hee-Chan  Koo Ja-Cheol     Lee Jae-Sung    
          Ki Sung-Yueng   Jung Woo-Young
Kim Jin-Su                                        Lee Yong
              Kim Min-Jae      Kim Young-Gwon
                           Kim Seung-Gyu       

 Lineup—South Korea—Match Two (4-2-3-1) (1/11/19) 

                               Hwang Ui-Jo
Lee Chung-Yong   Koo Ja-Cheol     Hwang Hee-Chan    
             Hwang In-Beom   Jung Woo-Young
Kim Young-Gwon                                   Lee Yong
                    Kim Min-Jae    Hong Chul
                             Kim Seung-Gyu       

Plenty of adjustments needed to be made in light of Ki Sung-Yueng’s injury. It looked like Hwang Hee-Chan moved over to the right wing whilst Lee Chung-Yong and Hwang In-Beom divvied up the responsibilities. It took everyone about a half hour to get used to this arrangement. Woo-Young wasn’t near as good as he was in the previous match. In-Beom suffered from some early nerves, indicative enough of his age.

Lee Chung-Yong should have done better in front of goal and Kim Young-Gwon did a fairly average job at fullback. Hwang Hee-Chan weas another one that didn’t look as sharp as he did in the first round. It took him some time to get used to his new positioning. 

None of this distresses the bookie. Bento still has a deep enough kader to ameliorate just about any troublous matters before they actually threaten the team. Either Lee Seung-Woo or Kim Moon-Hwan would make for great selections in the next match. 

Keep up the great work, Taeguks!

 1) Iran 

(Previously #1)

Team Melli maintains top perch. The Persians blaze through the second round. Difficult to fathom how anyone can slay this juggernaut with Azmoun in such electric form, Dejagah plowing through defenses, Taremi flashing some serious power, and Queiroz delivering ingenious selections. Bookie sees the systematic dismantling of the Vietnamese as the most complete team effort of the competition. Others (NOT your friendly bookie) had the Saudis up top following the intial spate of matches, but it’s obviously the Iranians who belong here.

Good God is Azmoun ever in the form of his life. Even Messi rarely shakes off two defenders and finishes as clinical as he did on the second goal. We can all be grateful that, like Messi, he overcame neurotic sensitivities to return from premature retirement. The FC Rubin Khazan man looked a ravenous beast on the pitch today. In addition to the two goals, he tested the Vietnamese keeper with some extravagant solo blasts as well. 

Dejagah wasn’t far behind him in terms of performance. Ignore some of the wayward efforts that found the highlight reel. He constantly skipped past two or three defenders at a time. It often took desperate challenges to stop his slicing.  Alacritous triangulation from Amiri, Taremi and Ebrahimi. The magical trio took total charge of the flow, keeping their opponents from establishing much of anything. Amiri and Taremi in particular truly exceeded expectations. 

Note that the Princes of Persia are kicking all this ass without their most highly valued player and his natural backup. Who the hell needs Jahanbakhsh and Ansarifard when they’re playing like this? Even Shojaei hasn’t been called up. Wow!

It’s all a testament to the brilliant acumen of Queiroz. He finally gave Ghoddos the start and the former Swedish international just went ahead and blew all of our minds. Boom. Trump card played. Bomb detonated. He looked lively from the start. One sensed a truly special performance was in store. He proceeded to set up both goals. Nearly every touch, run, and pass was breathtaking. The rising star arrives at last.

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Iran—Match One (4-5-1) (1/7/19) 

                            Sardar Azmoun
Omid Ebrahimi    Mehdi Taremi    Mehdi Torabi     
              Ashkan Dejagah   Vahid Amiri
M. Pouraliganji                                   Ehsan Hajsafi                  
                    R. Rezaeian   M. Hosseini
                        Alireza Beiranvand

 Lineup—Iran—Match Two (4-5-1) (1/12/19) 

                            Sardar Azmoun
Mehdi Taremi     Omid Ebrahimi    Saman Ghoddos     
                 Vahid Amiri      Ashkan Dejagah
Ehsan Hajsafi                                   Voria Ghafouri                  
              M. Pouraliganji  H. Kanaanizadegan 
                         Alireza Beiranvand

Why must Queiroz be so brilliant? What’s with these Portuguese managers? It was perfect, right down to switching Amiri back and moving Taremi out to share the left with Hajsafi. If that wasn’t enough, he went ahead and upgraded the defense too. Never would have thought of Ghafouri. Had no idea where Kanaanizadegan came from…or when we might find a way of westernizing that name. 

Your friendly bookie gives up on trying to match intellectual mettle with Queiroz. He can’t seem to do any wrong. I want him coaching Germany in time for Euros. With him at the helm, this side should make the final even if Sardar succumbs to injury.

No sense in trying to figure out the plan anymore. Just watch them win.

Onwards to the Lines. We’ll see how far I can pull my stats down.

Monday, January 14th 

Group A Final Kickoff @ 20:00 (UTC +4)


Fascinating all up and through. We’re all set for a great finale here. For those not yet enamored with the gripping stories in this tournament, a perfect day to start tuning in. This group got blown wide open on the very first matchday when Bahrain stole points from the hosts and the Indians shook the world.

All eyes Blue Tigers as their potential qualification for the Knockouts makes for one helluva story. After much deliberation on the matter, bookie tips them to do so. The live standings will fluctuate widely over the course of ninety dramatic minutes, but I believe they’ll ultimately come out on top.

U.A.E. vs. Thailand 


Zayed’s Sons square off against a Thai side that did well to salvage some pride under their new manager. Doesn’t look as if the War Elephants will be able to accomplish much beyond that as the Emiratis presently fire on all cylinders. Whether or not Zaccheronni opts to start Khalil is practically immaterial. Mabkhout and Mubarak are full of confidence. Majed Hassan and both Ahmeds find their groove too. 

Bookie simply isn’t confident a reduced Thai defense can hold out for long. It’s unclear how Yodyardthai can even build much of one with Pansa, Promrak, and Suphan already cautioned. Kraisorn will likely play more tentatively too.

The hosts top the group easily.

THE LINE: U.A.E. +2 Goals

India vs. Bahrain  


One has to believe. Believe in the potential of players like Ashrique, Udanta, and Narzary to return to better form. Believe that Thapa, Chhetri, and Lalpekhlua can get behind a less than stellar back four. Believe that even Kotal can redeem himself against whoever Juma’s replacement will be. 

Above all, believe that history awaits. When these two sides last met in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup Group Stage, the Tigers got trounced 5-2. Chhetri was there. He remembers it well and will play his heart out to prove that Indian Football has finally arrived. 

Bookie believes!

THE LINE: India +1 Goal

Initial Group Projection (1/3/2018)

 1) U.A.E. 
 2) Bahrain
  3) Thailand 
  4) India

Final Group Projection (1/13/2018)

(3 to 1 Odds for Bookie)

 1) U.A.E.  
 2) India
 3) Thailand
 4) Bahrain

Tuesday, January 14th  

Group B Final Kickoff @ 17:30 (UTC +4)


All four teams technically remain in it thanks to the arithmetical properties associated with 24-team-tournament, but it’s hard to foresee any real surprises here. This one didn’t quite play out as expected. Thanks to their early upset, Jordan will likely top the group. Bookie can’t stop obsessing about what a washout the Syrians were. Calamity struck swift and fierce for a side favored by many as a Dark Horse. They weren’t exactly graceful in defeat either.

Way back in the primer section your friendly bookie wrote that the Syrians were sure to advance “barring some freak occurrence”. As I customarily find myself shorter on vocabulary at this stage in tournaments, I’ll recycle the turn-of-phrase.

Aussies and Jordanians advance. Syrians and Palestinians…..“barring some freak occurrence”.

Australia vs. Syria


Another coach fired. For a time, we weren’t even sure who would take the reins for Syria. Former coaches Ayman Hakeem and Fajr Ibrahim both claimed to have been awarded the job. It took some time before the Federation eventually separated the wife from the mistress. Ibrahim takes over for his FOURTH stint at the helm.

It shouldn’t matter much as I couldn’t picture Patton getting this team moving. With Khrbin out of commission everyone else just capitulated. Aussie Contingent members will enjoy watching this one.

They’ll finally get rolling…or at least they damn well better.

THE LINE: Australia +2 Goals

Palestine vs. Jordan


Not terribly happy about matching these flags up again. The one not-so-subtle difference sends your friendly bookie through the roof. Instincts call for a political diatribe. We’ve more than enough of them in these pages. Let’s move on.

Ihbeisheh scored the lone Palestinian Tournament Goal the last time these two met in the 2015 Group Stages. It was a singular special moment, coming after Jordan had scored five of their own.

Sigh. This year’s Palestine side is even worse in many respects. They can’t get anything going. Bookie predicts they’ll exit the tournament without even scoring. The Chivalrous won’t relent with first place in the group on the line.

THE LINE: Jordan +3 Goals

Initial Group Projection (1/3/2018)

 1) Australia 
  2) Syria
 3) Jordan 
 4) Palestine 

Final Group Projection (1/13/2018)

(2 to 1 Odds for Bookie)

 1) Jordan 
 2) Australia
  3) Syria
 4) Palestine

Wednesday, January 16th  

Group C Final Kickoff @ 17:30 (UTC +4)


A tactically intriguing showdown shapes up between the top two seeds. Bookie eagerly awaits the selections of Bento and Lippi. Game Theory on an epic level. Not entirely impossible for Team Dragon to clinch top spot provided the Italian wins the game within the game. Talking points shall abound irrespective of the outcome.

The Kyrgyzs should get the job done against the oversold Azkhals, putting all of these exaggerated assessments to rest once and for all. I exert more confidence in this prognostication than any other. Sven Goran Erikson and I haven’t been on tipping terms for quite some time.

The street dogs get euthanized and this one falls just as it should. 

China PR vs. South Korea


Such a tremendous rivalry. Been looking forward to this one since the draw was announced. It’s nearly always a high-scoring affair when these two get together. Every indication points to a continuation of that trend here. Wu Lei and Hwang Ui-Jo both find themselves in peaking form. Hao Junmin vs. Hwang Hee-Chan is a tantalizing match-up. Ditto Wu Xi vs. Koo Ja-Cheol.

Believe it or not I think the aged-Chinese maintain a slight advantage in attack and set-pieces. I fully expect Kim Seung-Gyu to endure a battering. A propitious bounce here or there might even lead to an upset. 

In the final analysis the best team will likely win. Even if the Taeguks go behind early, they’ve got enough fresh legs to turn the tide with a late push.

Bento’s men prevail in what feels like a 4-2 thriller.

THE LINE: South Korea +1 Goal

Kyrgyzstan vs. The Philippines


Time to euthanize the Street Dogs. I don’t want to hear it anymore, brothers. Ingresso, Schröck, Ott, Strauß, Sato, and even Younghusband just aren’t good enough at the tournament level. All of those names have been touted by commentators in a vain effort to drum up false enthusiasm for this team. Merely because they were seen in the vicinity of the ball once doesn’t make them a story! 

It all ends here. Lux, Murzaev, or Bernhardt with the late winner. Maybe even Kichin. One team’s foreign transplants are better than the others. 

Yes, I’m aware that the White Falcons haven’t beaten this country in two attempts. This isn’t a friendly.

THE LINE: Kyrgyzstan +1 Goal. 

Initial Group Projection (1/3/2018)

 1) South Korea
 2) China PR
  3) Kyrgyzstan
  4) The Philippines 

Final Group Projection (1/13/2018)

(Straight Up Odds for Bookie)

 1) South Korea 
 2) China PR
  3) Kyrgyzstan 
  4) The Philippines

Group D Final Kickoff @ 20:00 (UTC +4)


The time comes for the great Shia-Shia Derby. At last! Based on what we witnessed this past round it shan’t disappoint. The high-stakes rematch of the 2015 Quarterfinal (possibly the best fixture this tournament’s ever produced) will rock your goddamned socks. 

This time your friendly bookie solemnly promises not to depress the hell out of you with talk of Middle East History ; ) Instead, we’ll look forward to writing a less ghoulish chapter in the history of these two countries. Football facilitates peace, if only for ninety short minutes. Then someone gets killed by celebratory gunfire. ; (

Alright. Enough, goddammit. Don’t miss Iran vs. Iraq! Speaking of less despondent matters, bookie has an interesting tip for the Yemen match.

Iran vs. Iraq


Bookie’s all set for the big one. He’s got the rosters before him and the lineups projected. No need to worry about politics. ISIL is out. All Iraqis can watch football once again…garahh. Stop it, Vicey! Let’s talk football!

If Katanec gets Bashar Resan’s positioning right I think he’ll have a huge match. Amri and Taremi will have problems containing him. Keep an eye on Dejagah’s early form as his ability to mow down the Iraqi midfielders will be crucial. Queiroz also needs to select the right centerbacks in order to shut down Mohanad quickly. 

Pouraliganji serves as kind of an X-Factor in the analysis. Should he start on the wing, he has the softest space available to utilize his forward potential. Team Melli need to exploit the left-hand side if they wish to get ahead early. By contrast the Iraqis have a less clear-cut way through. They face a close-to-impregnable defense and a red-hot keeper in Alireza. Resan must find a way to breach the 4-5-1. Bookie thinks he won’t have enough in tank to do so. 

Persians avenge.

THE LINE: Iran +1 Goal

Vietnam vs. Yemen


Should be a really physical match. Both sides have proven that, if nothing else, they’re willing to sacrifice the body for the vital challenge. Abdulwasea might want to give up a little less. He’s lucky not to have been thrown off last time.

Bookie encountered some unexpected stirrings when last watching a Yemeni team he had already written off. Al-Sarori and Mansoor might just have something to show us after all. Al-Yaman A’Sa’eed can still sneak up on a squad rife with problems to deliver the “modestly moral Wunder”. It looks very possible when matching up the two sides. 

We’ll stop short of the full “Upset Alert”, but will tip a draw

THE LINE: Pick em’

Initial Group Projection (1/3/2018)

 1) Iran
 2) Iraq
  3) Vietnam
  4) Yemen 

Final Group Projection (1/13/2018)

(Straight Up Odds for Bookie)

 1) Iran 
 2) Iraq
  3) Vietnam 
  4) Yemen

Thursday, January 17th  

Group F Final Kickoff @ 17:30 (UTC +4)


Thought your friendly bookie’s early assessment of the Japanese was too negative? How about the predicted draw against Oman? Doesn't seem so farfetched now. Bookie senses the lay of this group perhaps better than any of the others…and what a shocker we have for you below. 

I’ve repeatedly stated that no one is allowed is allowed to talk smack about my Uzbeks. I’m confident enough in the likes of Sidikov and Shomuredov to tip them for the massive upset. 

With the Omanis still in the hunt too, we’ll present a totally unlikely final group projection with high odds. Viel spaß!

Japan vs. Uzbekistan


Wanna know what’s cool about this match? The Uzbeks have only bested the Samurai once in ten meetings. Moreover, the White Wolves get to take revenge for their 8-1 demolishment in the 2000 Group Stages. 

This incarnation of the Japanese National team wasn’t built to top this group and likely won’t go very deep into the tournament. Seeing as how they still haven’t figured out what they’re doing, they’re all set up for the defeat here.

THE LINE: Uzbekistan +1 Goal

Oman vs. Turkmenistan  


Surely a steadily improving Omani side can handle these nabobs. Looks like a two-goal spread to me. The Al-Ghassani brothers (if they are indeed brothers) net one each and the Samba qualify for the knockouts by the skin of their teeth.

Viva la Samba Al-Khaleej!

THE LINE: Oman +2 Goals

Initial Group Projection (1/3/2018)

 1) Japan
 2) Uzbekistan
 3) Oman 
  4) Turkmenistan 

Final Group Projection (1/13/2018)

(4 to 1 Odds for Bookie)

 1) Uzbekistan 
 2) Japan
 3) Oman
 4) Turkmenistan

Group E Final Kickoff @ 20:00 (UTC +4)


We conclude the group stages with two highly intriguing matches. The high-flying and well equipped Qataris run into the jaws of what has been a locktrap Saudi defense. Two countries that have essentially been sleepwalking through this tournament face their first real respective tests. Everything on the line for two proud Arab Nations.

One last chance for the anticlimactic Cedars to make a statement. Can they suddenly realize a smidgen of their potential against the irrefutable worst team in the competition? There remains a sliver of hope for them yet.

Bookie has some interesting prognostications below. 

Saudi Arabia vs. Qatar


Another match with political implications. Always enmity when these two meet. Now they hate one another more than ever. Thus far we’ve been treated to heartwarming shots of comity among opposing fans in the stands. Hopefully we won’t see a riot here. What fans of the Maroon Vinyls were able to brave the travel restrictions to attend won’t be in the most congenial of moods.

Qatar got the better of the Saudis in the most recent 2014 friendly, but bookie isn’t seeing a result here. Neither manager has taken many risks thus far and they won’t be inclined to do so when topping the group doesn’t even guarantee a softer opponent in the next phase. 

With pride on the line the two countries exchange early goals. Following that they both bunker in for the draw 

THE LINE: Pick em’ 

Lebanon vs. Korea DPR  


Not even sure the Cedars can prevail here. The Chollima get Kwang-song Han back and my once venerated Lebanese turned out to be empty to the core. They play football in the “Sunken Place”. Bookie blames the Montenegrin trainer. Fire Radulovic! 

Interestingly enough, these two sides played in the same AFC qualifying group prior to the tournament. Lebanon spanked the hermits 5-0 at home in Beirut, but only drew the Pyongyang tie.

I just can’t see where the goals will come from. Neither squad has anyone in serious form. We’ll stick with a low line. Maatouk capitalizes on a defensive error after 85 minutes of sleepy stalemate. 

THE LINE: Lebanon +1 Goal

Initial Group Projection (1/3/2018)

 1) Saudi Arabia
 2) Qatar
  3) Lebanon
 4) Korea DPR 

Final Group Projection (1/13/2018)

(2 to 1 Odds for Bookie)

 1) Qatar 
 2) Saudi Arabia
  3) Lebanon 
 4) Korea DPR