Wednesday, January 9, 2019

AFC 2019--Round Two

Salaam Alaikum Syndicate Members,

A surplus of surprises thus far in this, the largest Asian Continental Showpiece us international football fanatics have ever been treated to. How about those Blue Tigers? 

Beyond the shock upsets delivered by Jordan and India, Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain, Vietnam, and Turkmenistan have all punched significantly above their weight. On the whole it’s been a very entertaining first round.

Such a pity no U.S.-based television network opted to cover a fun contest like this. As our commonly referenced AFC Graphic so aptly reminds, “The Future is Asia”. They’ll come around eventually, brothers. Qatar 2022 will change everything.   

For many Syndicate Brethren, the nascent stages of the competition don’t merit tuning in just yet.  Fully understood. There’s more than enough below to get you fully caught up should you find yourself lagging discursively. As always, a pleasure to speak those who’ve checked in. The best riffs are below. Eastward we march once more… 

My Updated Stats:

Spread: 4-8
Straight Up: 7-3-2

The "Mail Call" gets top billing.

Related image

Reader: Your boy Kruse can go back to China.

Vicey: Where they won’t pay him? Calm down, 23-M. I know there’s restlessness amongst the Aussie Contingent, but early tournament adversity is common. Merely because you suffer an upset in the group stages last Summer doesn’t mean the defending champions are going to go crashing out early. 

Just look at what happened to my Germans last Summ…oh shit. Nevermind.

Reader: What’s with the optimistic tone of this chapter’s title, Vicey? Aren’t you meant to be shitting on God or something?

Vicey: Er….don’t forget puppies, daffodils, and romantic love. Not fond of those things either.

For the record, the title of this chapter doesn’t reflect a rosier outlook on life. It’s actually named after a genuinely godawful DJ Tiesto Album. Appallingly bad Eurotrash techno reliably helped your friendly bookie meet many a tight writing deadline. Having recently Oliver Sach’s final magnum opus and Daniel J. Levitin’s masterpiece, I’ve revived work on the long-promised “500 Shades of Euro Trash”.

Thinking of re-titling it “This is your Brain on Really Shitty Music”.  

Reader: A Sunrise? Who are you and what have you done with Vicey?

Vicey: Et tu, 55-M? Look, it was just a damned DJ Tiesto Album. He took us on a poorly syncopated journey to Asia in “In search of Sunrise Seven”. And what’s wrong with something more upbeat anyway?  You want something dark and morbid from your bookie? Too bad. I’m not going to sit here and remind you that life belligerently crushes all of your vain hopes and aspirations to so as to constantly remind you that you’re an insignificant moribund insect that doesn’t matter to anyone or anything. Why would I write something like that?!?

Reader: Sorry to hear the African Cup of Nations can’t find a host country. Perhaps they can stick it in Djibouti 

Vicey: Bwahahaha. And…Zing, 128-M!

Reader: Why are you covering the AFC, Vicey? Our team is in the NFC. 

Vicey: Nicely done, 16-M. Thanks for reminding everyone that we’ve got reasons other than this awesome tournament to get together. The Philly Wop Contingent and I have business with the Deep South Contingent come Sunday. 


Fly, Eagles, Fly!
Let’s rank these countries. 

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

 24) Yemen 

So much for overachieving near home soil. After writing one of the more depressing preview sections in sixteen years of international bookkeeping, your friendly bookie confesses he simply had to indulge in a bit of wishful thinking. Truthfully, there was no way this hastily compiled group of players, a full third of whom didn’t hold a professional contract, could hope to compete on this stage. Those of us who follow the soul-wrenching travails of this fragmented country hoped against hope that we at the very least have the privilege of reporting some small moral victory.  

Nothing I can pull out of the seven minutes of promising play at the very beginning. Didn’t even see anything from Ala Al-Sasi or the young phenom Ahmed Al-Sarori. 

It can and will get worse. Two more matches await this hopelessly outmatched side. I find this even more painful than the experience of chronicling the Palestinian tournament four years ago. Speaking of which……

 23) Palestine 

Ugh. A positively putrid performance. A better result fails to translate into better play. This one even exceeds the three blowouts from 2015 in its extreme rancidity. Noisome dirty tactics from the five-man midfield, who racked up eleven fouls. I count all of five occasions in which they actually made it out of their own half. Zero shots registered on target. ONE solitary offensive push. A fucking fifty-percent pass completion rate!

As nauseating as all that was, it could have been much worse. Hamedeh—who looked full of nervy butterflies throughout—spared them an own goal in the 29th. One of the hashes he made early on would have definitely put them 0-1 down had Goal Line Technology been in place. What the hell was this kid doing starting? Where was Tawfiq?

VERY lucky escape for our Knights. Bookie sees them falling apart soon. 

 22) Korea DPR 

So glad I opted to label this incarnation of the Chollima junk from the outset. They suck hard. To be fair, the ten-men side did rally fairly well in a spirited second half against the Saudis. I counted three instances in which keeper Mohammed Al Owais had to make three difficult quick-reaction stretch saves. Meh. Chalk it up to a lax Saudi defense if anything. Barely a quarter of possession. Barely a dozen midfield passes completed. Bunch of refuse.

Highly gratifying to declare their campaign officially dead. We’ll never know why “Young Leader” Kwang-Son Han got the armband. I suspect it had something to do with the twenty-year-old being the only worthwhile footballer on the team. What we can say for sure is that they’re done after his suspension on double yellows. Now they’ve literally got no one. Kwang-Ryong Pak couldn’t out-deke your grandmother.

I pronounce them “Jong Nam-Kim Dead”.

 21) Syria 

For all intents and purposes, they blew it. Blew it! A marvelous opportunity to get out of the group—perhaps the best they’re ever like to see—gets completely wasted. In the primer section your friendly bookie pledged to drop his optimistic outlook for this team should they fail to capture points early. Noxious play from all of their key players coupled with the Jordanian upset could leave the Qasyouns eliminated come Thursday.

Al Soma’s furnished nothing but complete junk throughout. Khrbin’s piss-poor finishing proved he’s simply not ready. Apparently Fahd Youssef opted to quit on the left flank. Saw nothing from him after the initial five minutes. Haj Mohammed looked as if he had no ideas. Youssef Kalfa couldn’t seem to figure out where to wander after coming in to relieve the injured Omari. Build-ups galore down the stretch, but almost nothing in the vicinity of the keeper.

Stange does possess better players in his kader. Still time to rebound, but it will take a stroke of brilliance from the manager.  

 20) The Philippines 

Nope. Sorry. Your friendly bookie simply can’t infect himself with “Azkhal Fever”. Everyone loves a good underdog story. Commentators swoon over this team’s “valiant defensive display” and “amazingly disciplined shape”. Media blogs pounce all over the Twitter musings of a passionate and eclectic fan base. So many crave the sensational story. They need it to be something. A part of your bookie yearns for it too. 

Trouble is, they’re not the rich and colorful underdog story you seek. Check out the Indians below to satisfy that urge. The performance of this squad more closely resembles that which your dog regularly excretes. Christ what a horrible match! “amazingly disciplined shape”? They didn’t know what the shit they were doing out there. At one point I saw them perambulating about in a 4-1-2-1-2. “valiant defensive display”? They got mopped up all over the map, mostly only stopping the run of play with fouls and long clearances. 

No, no, no. Nothing there brothers. One can’t consider a team a “countering threat” when they only obtain fifteen-percent possession. Hurrah! They can block shots and frustrate opponents by aimlessly clearing the ball out of the attack zone! Nothing. No. Don’t fall into the trap.

 19) Turkmenistan 

Phrew. Came incredibly close to drawing it up for the Emeralds. The side that completely shut down the Japanese in the first 45 resembled contenders for a hot minute. Amanow’s scorcher from thirty yards out gets my “goal of the tournament”.

An intriguing attack along with resolute defending from the back line got your friendly bookie as far as Serdar Annaorazow’s place behind Altmyrat Annadurdyyew in the high-press-cutting-diamond box before the Japanese mercifully took the lead just after the hour mark. 

Almost no chance we’ll see much more from this side for the duration of proceedings. Both of their goals owe everything to fiendishly bad net-minding from Shüichi Gonda. We got a glimpse of how amateurish they truly are at the back on the second and third Samurai goals. Mammet Orazmuhammedow even put in his bid for “stupidest move of the tournament” when he rushed out to meet Nagatomo like that. 

Thanks for playing, Emeralds! Deeply appreciate you guys not forcing me to write too many of your names. ; ) 

 18) Lebanon 

Our first real heartbreaker. Bookie honestly fell in love with this team whilst covering them for the Primer section. I truly thought players like Hasaan Maatouk, Moni, and the Melki brothers could turn the Cedars into sleepers. No such luck. Enjoyed the fact that some of their fans braved the journey. Watch transpired in the stands was great! 

On the pitch it was death by drip-torture. Sloppy passing. Filthy fouling. Clumsy possession that seemed to dully drag on for hours even though they hardly ever had the ball. It would be fair to say that they were the better team in the opening half, but that would qualify as one of those “tallest leprechaun” distinctions. 

With regard to the disallowed goal, I’m not sure I see Felix Melki’s foul on Tarek Salman quite as clearly as the ref did. It doesn’t matter as they didn’t deserve a win. Having thoroughly wrecked their best chance at advancement, it’s probably over. 

 17) Oman 

So near to the advancing pack. They almost belong. Can’t back them here as despite all of their flurries of offensive activity as essentially all of the finishing was so wide of the mark. If Al-Musalami, Al-Mukhani, or even Al-Busaidi had striking chops this team would be a sure-bet for a Round of 16 berth. The fullbacks do their jobs well. Al-Khaldi and Al-Saadi are also good from distance.

Unfortunately, Al-Yahmadi and Raed Saleh looked like a couple of neurologically impaired emus in front of goal. Are these guys blind or what? Captain Ahmed Al-Mahajiri (who sometimes uses the surname Kano) played like the one-eyed knave his name his reminds you of. Al-Braiki blew more assignments than a high-priced Muscat Champagne Girl.  

Kano takes off the armband. Mushen Al-Ghassani gets the start. They re-format to a 5-3-2. Perhaps they can bounce back. 

 16) Kyrgyzstan 

I’ll give the White Falcons a draw-up primarily because I like their potential. Difficult to shake the feeling that their torrid execution will continue, thereby precipitating a hasty downfall. I don’t give them much of a chance against the Koreans. Nevertheless, they could sneak through if they don’t let their flagrant errors de-rail them and get the job done against the Philippines…..or perhaps they’re here just like them more than the Azkhals. 

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown 

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

                            Vitalij Lux
   M. Akhmedov                         Viktor Maier 
          Daniel Tagoe    Edgar Bernhardt 
V. Kichin       A. Zemlyanukhin      M. Yusupov               
        Azamat Basimatov   Tamirlan Kozubaev  
                          Pavel Matiash

 Lineup—Kyrgyzstan—Actual (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

Murazev did well distribution-wise, especially in the first half. Loved his work in that opening goal. Expected a lot more from Kichin, but he contributed to the run of that play as well. Israilov with the top-class finish. Sagnynbaev also came close on several occasions. Though he often took too many touches, I loved how he established himself as a physical and acrobatic presence. 

Now the bad. Vitalij Lux should have scored at least twice. Had high hopes that Kozubayev would make the final selection. After he totally flopped on that second Chinese goal I wished he hadn’t. Uulu was junk. Tagoe disappointed. None of the substitutes impressed. Matiash…..yeah. He’ll be replaced. The way he seemingly deliberately punched the ball into his own net will likely go down as one of the most embarrassing own goals ever. 

I suppose the point is that they didn’t have to suck. The talent and the plan were solid. Hence, they get a draw up.  

 15) Vietnam 

As predicted the Golden Dragons kept the scoreline close. Bookie still finds plenty of reasons not to trust them beginning with the fact that they didn’t really sore a legitimate tally. Faez inadvertently heeling the ball into his own net officially counted as an own goal. I’ll argue that Ahmad Ibraim actually toed in the second. Park Hang-Seo’s men deserved credit for neither. Furthermore, Nguyen Trong Hoang should have been red-carded early in the match.

In noted in the preview section that the South Korean coach over-opted for youth in his squad selection. It’s unclear why useful veterans like Ahn Duc and Van Quyet were left behind. I assumed he wished to give players like Doan Van Hau and Nguyen Van Toan more playing time, but neither of them made the starting eleven. Nguyen Cong Phuong proved an average selection when one considers he shouldn’t have been awarded the goal. 

The substitutions really perplexed me. Who makes a double change two minutes apart? Low-pace midfielder like Nguyen Huy Hung when the game was on the line? Doan Van Hau when it was likely already too late?

Can’t trust this. It’s almost like the didn’t come to play.

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Vietnam—PROJECTED (3-4-3) (1/3/19) 

            Phan Van Duc      Nguyen Van Toan      
                          Ha  Duc Chinh
Doan Van Hao                         Nguyen Trong Hoang        
      Nguyen Huy Hung       Do Hung Dung
  N. Quang Hai Luong Xuan Truong Do Duy Manh      
                          Dang Van Lam

 Lineup—Vietnam—Actual (5-4-1) (1/8/19) 

                           Phan Van Duc        
 N. Phong Hong Duy            N. Cong Phuong
              L. X. Truong            D.H. Dung     
 Bui Tien Dung                         Nguyen Trong Hoang
   N. Quang Hai Que Ngoc Hai   Do Duy Manh      
                          Dang Van Lam

Nguyen Quang Hai and Do Hung Dung were the only members of the initial eleven that impressed me. Ha Duc Chinh did well in relief. Nguyen Trong Hoang should probably play further up front. That’s about all this dispassionate bookie can say. At no point did they capture me.
 14) Japan 

Even a painfully early 4:00 a.m. wake-up-call wasn’t enough to dampen your friendly bookie’s enthusiasm for the new-look Samurai. At first glance the lineup didn’t disappoint, but I found myself soon sorely disappointed to find out they severely suck. Yeah. Gives me zero pleasure to write such a sentence (which incidentally also sucked). All of us lovers of this team may be mired in a long rebuilding rut. 

Tactically they made little to no sense throughout that woeful first half. It took them over a half hour to produce anything of meaning. Hiroki Sakai, Yuto Nagatomo and, Tomaki Makino seemed to actively run away from challenges to the ball. I couldn’t figure out whether Tomiyasu was supposed to fasten what looked like a 5-3-2 or slot in behind Osako in attack. Total chaos everywhere. 

Takumi was another player nowhere near the action. I completely forgot Doan was on the pitch. Yoshida, Sakai, and Gonda all failed miserably in allowing that opening goal. As amazing a diamond cutter as it was, Amanow was found himself totally unmarked with two in the vicinity. Gonda could of should of tipped it over. 

Improved play after the restart, particularly from Doan, Takumi, and Tomiyasu. Haraguchi served up Osako brilliantly for the equalizer. Exquisite finish from the Werder Bremen man too. The second and third goals were mostly crap, however. Anyone can tap into an open net and Doan got a deflection.

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Japan—PROJECTED (4-2-3-1) (1/3/19) 

                          Yuya Osako
Gaku Shibasaki  Yoshi Muto   Junya Ito
      Hidemasa Morita       Genki Haraguchi
  Yuto Nagatoma                     Hiroki Sakai
            Tomoaki Makino Maya Yoshida 
                    Masaaki Higashiguchi      

 Lineup—Japan—Actual (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                   

Just as augured Haraguchi and Yoshida retain their starting roles. Moriyasu literally ballasts the eleven with veteran leadership. Split decision on that stratagem as it works for Haraguchi but not Yoshida. 

Plenty of changes needed beginning with Higashiguchi at keeper. Yoshida can stay but needs help back there. Muroya of Sasaki might be worth a look. Doan can also stay but the positioning prompts a rethink. Pair him up front with Osako or directly behind alongside Ito or Endo. Move Tomiyasu up beside Shibasaki if possible.

 13) Australia 

A nightmare morning for shell-shocked Socceroo fans. Your friendly played down the significance of the Aaron Mooy injury. Of course I didn’t learn that Leckie and Boyle would also be sidelined until after I set the Line. Had I been in possession of that info, I would have rolled it down to a pick. 

Late losses of key players aside, this team absolutely shouldn’t have played such an uninspired match. A group of ordinarily deft professionals looked completely lost all afternoon long. No ideas. Nothing clever to note. We witnessed no real sense of urgency until well into added time. Defensive lapses too were rife. Luongo got caught ball-watching on numerous occasions. Jordan’s set-piece goal came courtesy of atrocious marking from Milligan.

Literally everyone and their mother wishes to cast aspersions on Robbie Kruse. Stop shiting on the man! He was in an unnatural position and none of the other bromidic boys could find a way to link up with him! 

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Australia—PROJECTED (4-3-3) (1/3/19) 

    Tom Rogic    Robbie Kruse   Massimo Luongo
         Mathew Leckie         Martin Boyle
                           Jackson Irvine           
  Aziz Behich                                   Josh Risdon
             Mark Milligan   Trent Sainsbury
                           Mathew Ryan

 Lineup—Australia—Actual (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

Small wonder Kruse looked lost. This is a totally disorganized tactical set-up. Everyone starts in the wrong place. One can clearly see what the plan was. Milligan moved up in order direct midfield traffic, hopefully steering the ball toward his Hibernian teammate up top. This didn’t work because Rogic ended up inheriting most of the forward possession. Kruse and Mabil got completely squeezed out. 

Rogic himself made your friendly bookie wince with all his angled shots that were well off target. He had no business in the center. Also painful to watch Mabil, who was often in the mood, be forced to work with so little space. He could only do so much so far on the flank.

Grant and Ikonomidas appeared solid in relief. Irvine was more mixed. I actually don’t think Maclaren performed so terribly. He even looked onside to me on the late disallowed goal. If Arnold doesn’t overthink things, he should have a solid lineup for the next fixture.

 12) Thailand 

Had Kawin Thamsatchanan been between the pipes, we’d be discussing a wholly different result. Budprom shrunk and shirked all night, allowing the Indian attack to essentially have their way with him. Pansa Hemviboon and Songkrasin were equally awful. Neither one fulfilled their respective responsibilities with any consistency. After modestly serviceable starts, both wilted like Bat Flowers in the desert.

There remain some positives to build upon. Danga and Chaided didn’t give up so easily. They had their looks. Kraisorn didn’t factor in at all, but he’s far too talented to discount so early. He usually pairs well slightly behind Chattong, where the two former club teammates can set up a few useful give-and-gos. 

Studying the formations, it just looks like Rajevac didn’t take India seriously enough to roll out his best attack. Huge mistake; one he’s unlikely to make again after they fired his ass. 

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Thailand—PROJECTED (4-2-1-3) (1/3/19) 

       S. Chaided  T. Dangda  S. Chattong 
                      Adisak Kraisorn
   Thitipan Puangchan Tanaboon Keserat    
 A. Promrak                                    Tristan Do 
              T. Bunmathan  P. Hemviboon
                    Chatchai Budprom

 Lineup—Thailand—Actual (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

So many problems. Bookie found it odd that Songkrasin got the start. It was even weirder when the anointed talisman got pulled. The J-League forward would probably work better as a late-game sub or even further back in the midfield. Slotting Bunmathan out to the flank—presumably the solution to left back problem—asked too much of the centerbacks. Seeing as how Tristan Do isn't meant to be part of the defensive corps, Wiriyaudomsiri might be needed to shore up this flailing unit. 

A total overhaul required in the midfield. Dechmitr and Thitipan got their asses handed to them. Bookie advocates Purisai or Keserat in replacement as part of a 5-3-2 or 4-2-1-3 reformat. Rajevac can find a role in there for Promrak too. The FAT may have given up on their coach, but I’m not giving up on this team quite yet. 

 11) China PR 

Is this the year? Bookie still thinks not. Concerns about the shaky defensive corps are confirmed. They produced a whole plethora of nervy moments in a match against a wholly inferior opponent. No way Vitalij Lux should have broken through on three separate occasions. Team Dragon might have come out on the losing side were it not for comically bad finishing and that freakish howler.

This isn’t to say that they didn’t display any encouraging signs. For long stretches well into the second half the attack looked as if it could compete with any of the more venerated teams in the tournament. Once they began using the width of the pitch more effectively, Wu Xi and Wu Lei played some great combinations. Gao Lin finally woke up later too. Bookie particularly liked what he saw from him and Chi Zhongguo from the 55thminute all the way up to the second goal. 

We finally got a look at Lippi’s tactics, only to have him scrap the whole approach 24 minutes in ; )

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—China—PROJECTED (3-4-3) (1/3/19) 

     Wu Lei    Gao Lin   Yu Dabao   
  Yu Hanchao                       Wu Xi  
        Piao Cheng   Chi Zhongguo
   Liu Yang                  Zhang Linpeng
         Yu Yeng      Li Xuepeng 
                  Wang Dalei

 Lineup—China—Actual (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

It didn’t take long for the Italian to figure out the stratagem above wasn’t working. Wu Lei and Gao Lin found themselves boxed in, unable to make any deep runs. He thus brought on the third striker and re-organized in a 5-2-3. When this produced respectable results that didn’t alter the scoreline, he ditched his fifth defender at the half to go with a 4-3-3.

Both substitutions worked eventually. We’ll give him credit for that. Yu Dabao should be up top alongside the others. Xi and Zhonggou can probably run the midfield themselves absent methuselahs like Hao Junmin, Zhao Xuri, Yu Hanchao or Zheng Zhi. 

There’s a chance for them if Lippi sticks with what works. I maintain a middle-of-the-pack ranking based on the fact that he often doesn’t….and the defense still sucks. 

 10) U.A.E. 

One suddenly sees how much the exclusion of midfielder Omar Abdulrahman greatly diminishes this squad’s offensive flow. Al-Hammadi, Rashid, and Esmaeel all had their looks at goal, but fell flat footed after having to do most of the legwork themselves. Mabkhout remains predominantly a first-time-finisher. He’s not much use without flighted balls delivered to the tip of his boot.  

With the “Abdulrahman-Axis” splintered, Zacherroni’s gambit revolved around something of an offside trap that sends Bandar Al-Ahbabi, Al-Hassan Saleh, and Khalifa M. Ghanim forward as a coordinated unit. This worked well until frustration began to set in around the half-hour mark. Fouls and desperate rushes back to defend by Ghanim started to loosen the cogs. By the time the half-time whistle blew the whole machine was out of commission. 

The introduction of higher caliber players didn’t improve matters in that ghastly second half. Wonder what's going on here.  

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—U.A.E.—PROJECTED (5-3-2) (1/3/19) 

                Ali Mabkhout Ahmed Khalil
M. Abdulrahman    S. Rashid      A. Abdulrahman
                           I. Al-Hammadi
A. H. Saleh                                                I. Ahmed                 
           Mohamed Ahmed     Walid Abbas
                               Khalid Eisa

 Lineup—U.A.E.—Actual (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

Tsk. Tsk. They employed all manner of shape to little effect. It almost looked like a 4-1-4-1 at times. Mubarak made no sense. Hardly a surprise to see him pulled. Swapping out Amer Abdulrahman for Mohammed Abdulrahman appeared to defeat the purpose of achieving some lateral balance on the pitch. Saw next to nothing from the entire back six excepting Khalifa Ghanim.

Perhaps more experienced centerbacks can help. Ghanim could play further up. Juma could move out to the flanks to make room for Ahmed and Abbas. That’s what this bookie would do anyway. We should see something more akin to the original projection in the second round. Khalil, Amer, and Rashid should all start.

Ideally Zaccheroni will have derived the right lesson from this lackluster debut. Kill the trap formation and throw all the top guns forward. 

 9) Qatar 

Bookie was entirely too dismissive of them. That’s what happens when one mixes politics with football. It leads to worse results than combining sex with fishing. For most of the first half it looked as if the overrated designation fit perfectly. Once Abdelkarim Hassan got on, however, there was a notable lift from just about everyone. The Marron Vinyls proved what a powerful and commanding team they can be for the duration. It could have finished 4-0 with all we saw in the closing minutes.

Since we’ve little choice but to get used to this team (and a Winter World Cup in 2022), we might as well expend some space on Abdelkarim Hassan. The 2018 Asian Footballer of the Year hasn’t caught on in Europe just yet, so few have heard of him. This bookie personally hadn’t. A natural left back who can also play midfield, he’s very technical on the ball and possesses sensational explosive potential in possession. 

While he had little to do with the set-piece daisy from Bassam Al-Rawi that opened the scoring in the 65th, it seemed like everyone else on the pitch stepped into high gear as soon as he came on in the 62nd. Almoez Abdullah, who had hitherto played like refuse, got more confident in his runs forward. Afif and Al-Haydos found themselves in better space. Even Khouki and Miguel looked more comfortable out wide. 

Tactically speaking there isn't really an explanation for why this was so. He was just there. Hatem, Afif, and a rejuvenated Almoez created most of the chances. Beats me. All I know is that we can’t take them lightly anymore. Looks like they’re advancing.

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Qatar—PROJECTED (4-2-3-1) (1/3/19) 

                       Almoez Abdullah 
Akram Afif    Hassan Al-Haydos    Ahmed Alaaeldin   
            Kareem Boudiaf  Assim Madibo
Abdelkarim Hassan                          Pedro Miguel  
           Boualem Khoukhi Tarek Salman
                         Saad Al-Sheeb

 Lineup—Qatar—Actual (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

The back three are solid. Madibo, Al-Ali, and Boudiaf not so much. He didn’t dare try Khouki back there. Still have problems in defensive midfield even if the centerback issue appears settled. 

 8) Bahrain 

Major props for wearing down the Emeratis until they became the team looking to play on the counter. Wouldn’t have expected that this team could accomplish much without Yusuf Helal. The build-up to the goal convinced me otherwise. Nuanced technical set-up from Madan. A salacious cross from Resa Isa. Al-Romaihi with the focused and determined finish.

Of all the match statistics, I find Bahraini aerial dominance to be the most salient. Centerbacks Waleed Al-Hayam and Sayeed Resa Isa stood tall whenever challenged on the jump. Liked what I saw from Al-Shamsahn too, who also provided some finely threaded through balls. Schubbar did his part when called upon. The defensive unit won’t be intimidated. 

Were it not for that ridiculous penalty, they would have captured all three points. 

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Bahrain—PROJECTED (4-2-3-1) (1/3/19) 

                     Abdulla Yusuf Helal
                        Said Dhiya Saeed
                Jamal Rashid      Ali Madan 
              K.H. Al-Aswad      Ab. Al-Safi   
Ahmed Juma A. Abdulla W. Al-Hayam Sayed Baqer                 
                    Sayeed Schubbar Alawi

 Lineup—Bahrain—Actual (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

I’ll again emphasize how well both centerbacks, the right back, and keeper played. While most of the other players merit average marks, Madan, Rashid, and Al-Romaihi were a cut above. Re-integrating Helal back into the fold might prove difficult now since the two replacement strikers did so well together up front.

A late injury to Left Back Ahmed Juma also has me worried. All replacement options lack significant international experience. Soukup has his work cut out for him ahead of Thailand. Too many moves will confuse the players. 

 7) Uzbekistan 

Seems like they’ve cooled off a tad after the scintillating run in the qualifiers. No worries. They still took the three points and confirmed your friendly bookie’s first (technical) upset special. When listing the veteran leaders on this squad during the Primer section, I somehow neglected to mention legendary keeper Ignatiy Nesterov. An authentically sensational match from the Lokomotiv Tashkent man who first represented the White Wolves back in 2004. He’s at the top of his game entering his FIFTH AFC Asian Cup.

Captain Odil Ahmedov is another player who can really take you back years. He scored one of the more memorable goals in the 2011 Competition. Helluva set-piece screamer from him today. Serviceable contributions too from Anzur Ismailov, another veteran who shows no signs of slowing down.

One move that did surprise me was Cuper’s choice of Bikmaev to lead the attack. Not all seasoned players can suddenly revert to their youthful selves in big tournament fixtures. I suppose he felt Rashidov better placed behind the second tier. When it didn’t work, he made perfect adjustments. Shomurodov and Alibaev, two promising young players I specifically told you to watch out for, combined illustriously for the second goal.  

What a well-built team ; )

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Uzbekistan—PROJECTED (4-2-3-1) (1/3/19) 

                        Sardor Rashidov
J. Masharipov    M. Bikmaev   O. Shukurov
           Odil Akhmedov     Fozil Musaev
Oleg Zoteev                           A. Shorakhmedov  
        Islom Tukhtakhujaev  Anzur Ismailov
                         Ignatiy Nesterov          

 Lineup—Uzbekistan—Actual (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                    

Bookie really likes how it works. When Marsharipov and Bikmaev got pulled, Ahmedov, Khamdamov (who replaced Rashidov) and Sidikov went straight forward leaving the two substitutes free to roam the flanks. We all saw how well that went. Given that Rashidov and Shukarov were sort of flops, I think he should move Marsharipov center, drop Zoteev, and give Shomurodov and Alibaev the start. 

Might be tough to drop Zoteev since Krimits is under suspension after the professional foul. A crucial match beckons for Tursunov.

 6) Jordan 

Okay. Bookie gets it now. All it took was a real match to divine Borkelman’s intentions. He’s definitely aiming for a “choke-out approach” in the middle of the park. That what Al-Rawashdeh, Al-Murjan are doing on this roster alongside Samir and Rateb. That's also why Siaj and Mahmoud Al-Mardi were left off. He’s built a quite versatile side designed to press high defensively by placing as many as seven players in the neutral third at a time.  

I infer that the basic idea is to keep the opponents guessing as to which player will break. It’s clear to me that the centerbacks often alternate their assignments with the central midfielders. The Belgium coach places confidence in his lads, affording them license to shift roles so long as everyone’s covered. The fullbacks immediately crash in to cover as well.

Exquisite set-piece work from this squad to earn the early goal. They nearly doubled their advantage with that clever four-man scheme two minutes later. Definitely a well-coached team with quality players. Your friendly bookie warms to them.

S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Jordan—PROJECTED (3-5-2) (1/3/19) 

                Baha Faisal       Odai Khadr
                        Musa Al-Taamari
B. Abdel-Rahman M. Al-Mardi A. Samir Y. Al-Bakhit            
 Salem Al-Ajalin                                 Feras Shelbaieh               
                           Tareq Khattab
                             Amer Shafi 

 Lineup—Jordan—Actual (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 

Al-Taamari really lives up to the hype. He’s quick, alert, and excellent on the turn. Observing Murjan, Abdel-Rahman, and Bani Yaseen fluidly change positions allowed me to see how marvelously flexible this system is. Great match from all three of them.

Al-Bakhit and Rawashedeh demonstrate fantastic power from range. Kalil Bani Attiah just plain kicked ass with superb sliding tackles and magnificent offensive hustle.  

I honestly look forward to seeing some of the other players the Belgium head coach selected for this team. They’ve got depth and might go deep. 

 5) Saudi Arabia 

Just inside the top five. Cautious that they’ll stay here after they burned the bookie pretty badly four years ago. Once their offense got gliding they looked far more dangerous than my introductory passage suggested. Can’t trust them completely yet as the Falcons remained very slow to take off after both opening whistles.

They needed far too much time to grow into the game. Fahad Al-Muwallad, who finally got his goal after embarrassingly scuffing two attempts, seems emblematic of this team’s larger struggle to turn it on at will.   

Kudos to Pizzi for moving Hattan Behebri further up and shifting Al-Dawsari back. Both players scored from positions that enabled them greater creative license. Al-Bishi and Al-Mogahwi did superb work in most of the build ups. Al-Sharani came forward when necessary. Al-Briek looked much better back out on the flanks. 

While the defense remains an issue—Otayf blew some assignments and Al-Bulaihi didn’t mark well at times—there’s every indication that the unit will gain in confidence, particularly after Al-Fatil’s awesome 90 minutes on both sides of the ball. 

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

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

                         Abduallah Otayf
        Yahya Al-Shehri       Salem Al-Dawsari
                       Fahad Al-Muwallad
              Salman Al-Faraj      Hattan Bahebri
Y. Al-Shahrani M. Al-Briek O. Hawsawi A. Al-Bulaihi    
                         Waleed Abdullah

 Lineup—Saudi Arabia—Actual (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

All said they’re better than I predicted. Japan takes their place as the weakest of the group leaders. The Salman Al-Faraj injury hasn’t factored in yet as the midfield couldn’t even try to fail against the hapless North Koreans. I maintain that an overreliance on a triplicate break leaves them susceptible. 

Even the ignoble do-nothing Chollima got some counters in against them. Not the best of signs, but they can fix it. 

4) Iraq

The massive match against Iran can’t get here soon enough. Really shaping up to be epic! They displayed tremendous character and heart coming from behind twice to capture the thrilling victory. Your friendly bookie told you these young lads had it in them all along. We’ve not even seen the best of the new cadre yet. So much excitement and discovery yet to come.

What an incredible match from the eighteen-year-old phenom Mohanad Ali. He figured prominently in just about every last offensive effort early on. After knocking on the door what felt like twenty times in three minutes, he finally netted a beauty at the end of a ravishing twisting and turning run. How can someone so young be so damned good? Some are even crying foul, claiming he’s been using his brother’s passport. ; )

Twenty-year-old Safaa Hadi and twenty-two-year old Hussein Ali look to represent real quality. Another tyro, twenty-two-year old Humam Tariq shifted the entire tenor of the match with his electric performance. While it wasn’t the most tantalizing goal, his indomitable hustle throughout was truly a sight to behold. Keep it up, kid!

Don’t wish to diminish the performance of the veterans either. Ahmed Yasin and Osama Rashid both looked strong. Ali Adnan’s set-piece capper secured a much deserved win in which all contributed.

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Iraq—PROJECTED (4-2-3-1) (1/3/19) 

                   Mohanad Ali
M. Dawood    B. Resan    H. Tariq
   Ayman Hussein  Ahmed Yasin
    Ali Adnan                    Waleed Salim
          S. Natiq-Naji  Rebin Sulaka    
            Mohammed Gassid

 Lineup—Iraq—Actual (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

Moving forward it’s almost as if Srecko Katanec has been gifted his best lineup. He has grounds to pull Ali Faez for Natiq-Naji after the own goal. Putros’s injury means he can either switch to a three-man-backfiield that allows for Resan to pair with numerous better options or bring in Mhawi. Ibrahim likely loses his spot after his involvement in the second own goal. 

Tariq earns a starting place over Rashid. Yasin can drop back as he did in the latter stages and make room for Ayman or Dawood. So much possibility. The fun’s only getting started. 

 3) South Korea 

Completely satisfied. I to think they did rather well. In this bookie’s estimation, they’re off and running and maintain their status as the pre-tournament favorites. To say a difference of opinion exists on the web would be a massive understatement. Most other analysts grade them on a rather harsh curve; a reasonable enough practice seeing as how better teams must be held to higher standards. In this instance, however, all the false hype surrounding their opponents—the bloody Azhkhals—exacerbates this trend. An up-tempo debut featuring a surfeit of bright spots gets unfairly undervalued. 

Grrr…bookie won’t stand for this. The Taeguks completely dominated possession, outhustled their opponents over the entire pitch, and reigned supreme in nearly every aerial or 50/50 challenge. They strung together splendid twenty-touch passing routines, treated us to gorgeous long-bow crosses, and sparkled with beautifully choreographed offensive spurts. 

They crushed it! It was delightful and enchanting “Asian Tiki-Taka”. I fail to comprehend. What game was everyone else watching? All this deflationary talk whips me up into a frantic Heather-Cho-like rage. 

They connected. They clicked. They’ll only get stronger as the tournament progresses and Son Heung-Min comes in, potentially thrashing through competitors Old-Boy-Style. Many pleasant surprises when we examine the performance in greater depth. 

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—South Korea—PROJECTED (4-4-2) (1/3/19) 

       Son Heung-Min    Ji Dong-Won
   Hwang Hee-Chan         Lee Jae-Sung
     Ki Sung-Yueng     Lee Chung-Yong 
  Hong Chul                        Lee Yong
        Kim Min-Jae  Kim Young-Gwon
                   Kim Seung-Gyu       

 Lineup—South Korea—Actual (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       

I called attention to “streaking striker” Hwang Ui-Jo in the Primer Section. The Gamba Osaka forward fizzled out after an initially promising spell with the national eleven four years ago, but started lighting it up this Autumn after Paulo Bento re-introduced him into the side. Bento obviously knows what he’s looking for when it comes to in-form players. 

Jo played an absolute beast of a match. Very technical on the ball and highly inventive just outside the 18, he could have well had a Hat Trick if a couple more bounces broke his way after the opening goal. One totally overlooked aspect of his performance was the poise with which he handled the rebound off the set-piece in the 62nd. Cool, calm, and collected, he nearly supplied us with one of the better set-ups off a broken play I’ve ever seen. 

Hwang Hee-Chan and Koo Ja-Cheol were off the chain as well. I particularly loved both the cheeky no-lock back-heel and a super slick trick from the latter. Some interpreted his 64th minute substitution as a poor reflection on his night when it really looked more like a tactical maneuver following the Ki Sung-Yueng injury. I’ll stand by his efforts. 

Wonderful work in midfield from Jung Woo-Young. He directed most of those wondrous uninterrupted passing routines. Even better stuff on the flanks from Lee Yong and Kim Jin-Su. Breathtaking crosses from them throughout.

Oh they’re strong. Chaebol strong. Don’t doubt it. I’m not even concerned about Ki Sung-Yeung’s injury status. Bento’s brought along plenty of other players that can step it up if need be. Hwang In-Beom, Kim Moon-Hwan, and Lee Sueng-Woo haven’t even been introduced yet. 

Rock on, Taeguks. 

2) India

Holy motherfucking sacred cow. Jai Ho! Not even those Blue Pilgrim Bandwagoneers flooding the web with sanguine hopes foresaw. this. What an amazing upset. What a story. What a team! Comb back through the primer section and you’ll see your friendly bookie artfully talk himself out of this squad based on what he saw as imprudent moves by head coach Stephen Constantine in his final squad selection. 

I continued to repudiate all the buzz surrounding the Ashokra Blue in the lines section, mostly because I felt a disproportionate amount of Indian English-Language-Sports-Media implausibly inflated the talent level on the team. It just didn’t seem to me that it could be reality-based. 

In anticipation that the fanboys might be right, I accorded myself an avenue for a backtrack.

From AFC 2019—In search of Sunrise Syndicate:

Naturally I must acknowledge that I likely don’t know what in the hell I’m talking about. As you all well know, your friendly bookie gets proven dead wrong frequently and occasionally goes to unnecessarily elaborate lengths to deliberately force himself into being thoroughly confuted. Perhaps I’m just angling to get the props knocked out from underneath me. 

Well done, bookie ; ) Classic move.

Plenty of praise to spread around for one of the more dominant second halves I’ve ever witnessed. Udanta, Ashique, and Halicharan Nazary all deserve top marks for their tenacious courage on the ball. Udanta’s set up of Thapa’s tally in the 68thwas pure genius. Lalpekhlua, for some reason didn’t start, topped it off with that smooth as silk finish in the final minutes.

Chhetri didn’t merely have a historic night with his 66thand 67thinternational goals. He led by example magnificently, never slowing down for a second. Supporting cast members emulated his up-tempo work brilliantly. Just goddamned beautiful stuff all around.

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—India—PROJECTED (4-4-2) (1/3/19) 

        Jeje Lalpekhlua  Sunil Chhetri
   Udanta Singh             Halicharan Narzary 
      Jackichand Singh  Pronay Halder
  Narayan Das                    Pritam Kotal
        Subhasish Bose Sandesh Jhingan
                  Gurpreet Sandhu           

 Lineup—India—Actual (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           

As expected, Constantine’s “preferred” 4-3-3 was nothing more than a red herring. All the talk about a rift with Chhetri and disappointment with Lalpekhlua turned out to be similarly misleading farces. He also fooled all of us by starting Udanta, Nazary and Halder on opposite sides during the friendlies. Thapa and Ashrique came out of nowhere. 

No shortage of shrewd moves from the Cypriot Mourinho. He even managed to compensate well for the loss of Narayan Das by having Jhingan, Bose, and Edathodika share responsibilities on the back left flank. All did well.

Let it be noted, however, that the Blue Tigers benefitted from plenty of blind luck. The handball call could have gone either way. Long-range Thai efforts that could have altered the tone of the contest didn’t miss by much. Not entirely sure Ashrique knew much about his assist on the go-ahead goal. He seemed to completely fluff, giving Chhetri a fortuitous bounce. 

Pronay Halder was….meh…suffice to say we might have a problem there. Don’t be surprised if midfield disorganization and suspect tackling has the boys crashing back down to earth soon.   

Taking nothing away from the moment of course. Way to humble an independent oddsmaker, lads. You produced the complete inverse of my line!

1) Iran

True, it was only Yemen. Should one wish to place the trouncing in context, one need only take a closer look at the initial two goals. Opposition keeper Saoud Al-Sowadi spilled a soft rebound directly into the path of Mehdi Taremi to open the floodgates. Some match reports, quite erroneously in your bookie’s opinion, even cite him for an own-goal when Dejagah’s pinballing free-kick rendered the lead insurmountable. It’s all too easy to dispraise the high scoreline given that Team Melli faced the tournament’s worst opponents, especially in light of the early luck.

Bookie sees too many strengths to discount. Azmoun played the best all-around match I’ve seen from him yet. As I wrote in the Preview Post, he’s clearly entering the prime of his career. The “Iranian Messi” practically owned proceedings in the ten-minute-stretch leading up to his breakthrough goal. Over the course of the night he managed to test the keeper with both powerful long-range strikes and precision headers.

Taremi commanded respect as the anchoring striker. Obviously his name prevails on the scoresheet. He deserves far more credit for the important work of running a crisp and disciplined passing scheme together with Torabi, Dejagah, and Amiri. All four mentioned players demonstrated no discernable weaknesses in possession. Queiroz clearly has them working closely together on the training pitch. 

Loved the work from the defensive line too. We witnessed a minor breakdown from Hosseini, but otherwise everyone turned in A+ Work. Rezaeian charged forward with confidence often, seeting up Taremi perfectly for the brace. Hajsafi and Pouraliganji exhibited good movement upfield and were back helping when needed. Montezari stepped in more than adequately in relief.

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

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

                   Sardar Azmoun
Vahid Amiri   Mehdi Taremi  Mehdi Torabi     
      Masoud Shojaei Ashkan Dejagah
 Ehsan Hajsafi                  Ramin Rezaeian 
         P. Montazeri   M. Hosseini
                  Alireza Beiranvand

 Lineup—Iran—Actual (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

It doesn’t happen very often, but your friendly bookie managed to more or less correctly forecast the coach’s tactics. Having had significant exposure to Queiroz’s work, I anticipated he would select Torabi over Ansarifard and Jahanbakhsh to share the same vertical axis. By all accounts the partnership worked out perfectly. A well-timed “injury” to the latter really works to their advantage. 

Flipping Hajsafi went successfully. Switching Amiri didn’t. No way of telling whether or not these were moves meant to experiment or mislead. Understand that everything we see from the Portuguese tactician early on may be laced with trickery as he prepares for the massive final group stage match against Iraq. 

It’s not truly feasible to handicap Persian chances for breaking their 43-year-long title drought until after that massive encounter. No way to know for certain what the true plan is either.

Let’s FINALLY rock the lines.

Thursday, January 10th

Bahrain vs. Thailand


Well, brothers. It’s generally not a good idea to shitcan your coach in the middle of a football tournament. Madan, Rashid, and Al-Romaihi stand ready to pounce on any perceived disarray they might find in the ranks of their opponents. Overall your friendly bookie felt the Bahraini Reds offered up only a slightly above average fixture. I would have had no qualms about selecting the War Elephants here were it not for the late breaking news. 

That aside, we’ll set a line. Gamblers will find themselves hard pressed to find bookeepers willing to touch this one. It’s a classic example of why an encounter should be taken “off the board”. There’s just too much uncertainty.

My confidence in the number of attacking options available to an experienced interim coach eventually led me to stick with the original pick. It’s reasonable to expect that the players might even find the move liberating. Such an unorthodox move may be precisely the thing it takes to get Songkrasin moving. The much-maligned striker usually matches up well against the likes of Podolski and Iniesta in the J-League. 

Those players may be past their prime, but do the Bahrainis presently have anyone who is seriously in it?  


THE LINE: Thailand +1 Goal

Jordan vs. Syria  


Can Stange recover from that wretched debut? For starters, we’ll act on the assumption that Osama Omari isn’t available. Either Mardikian needs to be deployed further back or Haj Mohammed needs to come forward. Khalfa turned out to be a poor solution. Al-Mawas might be better.

The Syrians remain the better team on paper. Hate to jump ship so soon, but one cannot ignore that tepid shite we observed on Sunday. No one should look that bad against ten men. Kharbin doesn't look fit at all, Osman disappointed, and Al-Somah plays like the damned drug the phonetic pronunciation of his name intimates.

In a way I’m not giving up completely. I think the Eagles up their game enough to equal the surprise Jordanians. We’ll set a draw line here.

Over/Under on Al-Shafir “Whale Punch Saves” stands at six.

THE LINE: Pick em’

India vs. U.A.E.  


Lord has this group ever been turned on its head. Common sense dictates that the Blue Tigers shouldn’t stand a chance against a strong host side outmatching them at literally every position. Bookie nevertheless found himself haunted by shades of the Chilean run in 2014 as he sat down to write this section. Recall that La Roja Americana upset the heavily favored Dutch 5-0, then rode their momentum to a dismantling of the might Spanish Champions in Round Two.

Momentum matters much in this instance, but I don’t necessarily think it matters enough to produce another stunner. Zaccheroni needs only to deploy his more experienced centerbacks to shut down Udanta and Narzary. Amer Abdulrahman compares well enough with Ashrique and Bandar can shut down Chhetri.

Constanine’s defensive rotations look vulnerable when tasked with covering both Mabkhout and Khalli. The fact that Halder looks all out of sorts leaves the defensive midfield prone to lapses.

The Emiratis prevail, but it will be very close.

THE LINE: U.A.E. + 1 Goal

Friday, January 11th

Australia vs. Palestine


The Roos will be just fine. Arnold needs only to engage in some minor tinkering to get his players into more appropriate assignments. Then the ideas will come. The bookie’s initial projection would probably work well. If he wishes to stick with a 4-2-3-1, Ikonomidis or Nabbout alone up top could also yield results. Amini or Mabil in central midfield wouldn’t count as a bad idea either. 

I’ve already placed my soul on the table with respect to our beloved gallants of the West Jordan. As is often the case when I undertake such matters, it got completely hacked to pieces. Nothing positive to report from their opening match. Tamburrini, Cantillina and Islame played like complete garbage. Now they’ll have to do without their best centerback after that silly elbow challenge. 

Watch them get dismantled here. We’ll presage a heinous rout.

THE LINE: Australia +3 Goals

China PR vs. The Philippines 


“Azkhal Fever” ends here. The only real strength Sven Goran Erikson’s “Street Dogs” possess no real collective strength at the back. It’s only an illusion. Manuel Ott, John Patrick Strauß, and Stephan Schröck were able to frustrate the Koreans on occasion through sheer strengths in numbers. Their blanket approach—entirely haphzard in that none of them appeared to have clear positioning assignments—won’t work against the likes of Wu Xi, Gao Lin and Yu Dabao.

Undeniable issues with the Chinese defense lead some to speculate that the underdogs may receive opportunities on the counter. I’d accept such logic if the Philippines actually had a coherent counter. Reichelt and Patino aren’t really threats in my opinion. They can’t seem to even figure out which one of them is meant to constitute the target. 

The only player inspiring confidence for some forward momentum is left back Daisuke Sato. Somehow I don’t see him getting past Liu Yang and Feng Xiaoting. 

Team Dragon hands a rival they meet regularly yet another loss. 

THE LINE: China PR +2 Goals

South Korea vs. Kyrgyzstan


We’ll be kind to the White Falcons here and assume that they’ve already exhausted their pre-tournament allotment of “fuck-ups”. Expect a better game from them. Bento will make the most of his chance to test out some alternate lineups here, so one should expect a close result as well. 

I think we actually might see Hwang In-Beom or Lee Seung-Woo in the starting eleven. He might as well give Ji Dong-won a go too. The current form of nearly every player on the needs to be tested as the Taeguks gear up for their championship run. On the other side of the ball, the Kyrgyzs select a new keeper and revamp their defensive corps. 

There you have it, gentlemen: a low-line enables you to bet on your Taeguks. Told you we’d get there. Bet early as the bookie will be forced to roll it up before too long.

THE LINE: South Korea +2 Goals

Saturday, January 12th

Iran vs. Vietnam


A much tougher test for the Persians pits two defensive-minded formations against one another. I actually believe Que Ngoc Hai could present Azmoun with problems. Amiri may also have difficulty besting Luong Xuan Trong, and who knows how effective the Golden Dragon attack might be if Park Hang-Seo actually builds with players like Doan Van Hau and Nguyen Van Toan?

Your friendly bookie confronts his first official “nervy projection”. An upset here isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Team Melli may underestimate the importance of this fixture whilst focused on what lies ahead. 

I see them finding a way, but won’t augur a very entertaining affair. 

THE LINE: Iran +1 Goal

Iraq vs. Yemen


Which Iraqi tyro will dazzle us next? Bookie has little time to speculate in great depth, but I sense we’re in store for another big game from Mohanad. Husni or Ayman can also be in the mix. Resan or Safaa Hadi could also have a breakout day.

Forgive you bookie’s mild obsession with the Iraqi up-and-comers. It’s just that the poor, forlorn Qahtanis are about to get stomped on all over again. Not a damned thing we can do about it. 

We’ll take some scouting notes here and move on quickly. It can’t end quickly enough for “Al Yaman” 

THE LINE: Iraq +3 Goals 

Saudi Arabia vs. Lebanon


If there’s any hope left for the Cedars who let me down so dishearteningly, it lies in the head-to-head statistics. Neither one of these teams has been able to gain supremacy over the other historically. They’ve split the difference in eight meetings since 1957, even drawing in the last organized friendly back in 2014.

Sadly it’s 2019 and Radulovic’s boys just aren’t good enough. Really pissed about the letdown from the Melki brothers.

Grrr…Saudis pull it off…again

THE LINE: Saudi Arabia +1 Goal

Sunday, January 13th

Korea DPR vs. Qatar


Abdelkarim Hassan should start this time. Bookie thus expects whatever magical voodoo spell he casts upon the team should be in effect from the opening whistle. The Chollima find themselves all set up for implosion following the loss of captain Kwang Son-Han. 

Note that your friendly bookie only spent about three minutes toying with the DPR formation to see if there might be a way of replacing him. Once I stumbled upon a midfielder actually named Kim Jong-Il, I simply had to pack it in.

No contest.

THE LINE: Qatar +2 Goals

Oman vs. Japan


Al-Ahmar have every reason to feel hard done by as they were the superior team for large swaths against the Uzbeks. Bookie eats his words. They certainly did not bore. Pim Verbeek faces serious historical headwinds as he enters this clash against the underwhelming Japs. His Reds have never beaten Japan in eleven meetings, last getting spanked 4-0 in a 2016 friendly. 

We’ll cast a lure out here for those who still believe in the Samurai. Decide for yourself whether you can wriggle some live bait off the hook or I’m dangling a faux neon worm. 

I really like the way the Omani 4-3-3 stacks up against this unproven and shaky incarnation Yoshida has put together. Head-to-head it looks like a draw. We thus have a pick, gentlemen. 

Viel Spaß dammit!

THE LINE: Pick em’

Turkmenistan vs. Uzbekistan


Can you “stan” it? It’s cross-border-former-SSR chaos! These two countries used meet seemingly every other Friday after independence, mostly because they couldn’t find anyone else willing to play. The Emeralds beat their northern neighbors only once in nine tries way back in 1992. For some reason they’ve not met in nearly ten years.

Not seeing much to trouble my adopted Uzbeks here. Ahmet Atayew showed some life in the first group stage encounter. As already noted, Amanow’s goal was glorious….but probably still should have been stopped. Nesterov wouldn’t have allowed that in. 

The White Wolves swarm and devour.  

THE LINE: Uzbekistan +2 Goals