Sunday, January 27, 2019

AFC 2019--Semi-Finals

Shika Syndicate Members,
Well. So much for the augured “Aussie Offensive Outburst”. A new Asian Champion shall be crowned. We’ll have to do without the eagerly anticipated Iran-South Korea final as well. 

Bookie’s still somewhat upset over that as it would have ended a long drought for either side. Damn. 

Oh well. So it has been fated. More than enough intriguing storylines as we prepare to conclude. The Emiratis hope to attain the finals for the first time since they last hosted the competition twenty-two years ago. Standing in their way are the upstart Qataris, determined to make a huge statement ahead of their own hosting duties in 2021 and 2022. 

Iran are oh so close to their first title since 1976, but must first overcome the four-time champions who took it all in 1992, 2000, 2004, and 2011. The Samurai obstinately refuse to go gently. 

Some journey it’s been. Bravo, Asia. A genuinely fun tournament heads for a memorable finish.    

My Updated Stats:

Spread: 21-27
Straight Up: 28-14-6

Final “Mail Call”

Related image

Reader: Degenek needs a flare forcibly inserted up his rectum. 

Vicey: Easy, now 23-M. Surely there’s a support group out there for disaffected Aussies that you may join. Nice veiled allusion to his Croat roots, though. We’ll award you a “subtle-half-zing” for that. 

Reader: A “Weighing in on Var Segment”?

Vicey: Not this time as I think the booth officiating teams nailed every decision. Embrace technology, no matter how much Michio Kaku attempts to scare the shit out of you with it. 

Reader: Thanks for fixing the highlight links. 

Vicey: My pleasure.  All the dead links in the previous posts have been replaced. And here are some more for you:

Decidedly less for Vietnamese announcers to scream about this time, but Phan Van Duc in the 37th and 38th got them going. Phong Hung Duy in the 73rdisn’t half bad either.

More great stuff from our friends over at Persian Football Magazine. Great HD Highlights, but where is my “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM” Dude? 

I like this guy better:

…but not nearly as much as I adore my new hero:

Treat yourself to a few Arabic Commentating Classics while you’re at it. Bookie can’t get enough:

Reader: …On second thought, damn your Arab highlights. Now it’s pitch black outside, my kid is still at piano lessons, my wife’s stopped speaking to me, and the dog is about to eat the cat. 

Vicey: Don’t say I didn’t warn you, 88-M. It’s Video Meth. 

To directly quote Iggy Pop, “TV Screen makes you feel small…no life at all.”

Tactical draw-ups for both heavyweights felled in the Quarters. At least we can give them a proper send-off.

Goodbyes Section

 8th Place—China PR 

Fitting end to the Marcelo Lippi Era. With all that the bookie managed to get dead wrong in previous posts, at least he called the preposterous moves of the senile old Italian correctly. One didn’t necessarily have to be Columbo to put it together. He had no strategic acumen left. Team Dragon predictably imploded under the auspices of a doddering old Dago who no longer knows what he’s doing. 

Let the bookie select your eleven next time, old man! In the Line Section I constructed a projected 3-5-2 that featured Xiao Zhi and Zaho Xuri as the fastening midfielders. Ironically enough, we saw Lippi attempt to re-organize into that precise arrangement as he scrambled to ditch his starting configuration with two tactical substitutions before the 30thminute. Both players were subbed on, but far too late to give the floundering defense a coherent shape.

Feng Xiaoting, Liu Yiming, and Shi Ke might have been able to withstand the Iranian onslaught had they been given clear territorial instructions. Instead, all three committed egregious defensive errors when caught alone on the final axis. The back line resembled a frazzled porous jumble that couldn’t get organized behind the perpetually perambulating Zhang Chengdong and a totally confused Zeng Zhi.

Bookie assigns barely passing grades to all three subs and a briefly spunky Gao Lin. Other than that everyone looked an unsystematic chaotic mess. F’s all around. Wu Lei again started when he should have been laid up in a hospital bed. What sort of program pulls this shit?   

 7th Place—Vietnam 

Not a bad final match at all from the minnows, who might have held on were it not Bui Tien Dung’s flagrant foul in the 54th. Some will invariably complain that a retroactive VAR Call threatens to disrupt the fluid flow of a match. It’s definitely debatable as to whether we should allow replay to reverse a missed call some four minutes after the play concluded. Based on how dirty the clip on Ritsu Doan was, I’ll tentatively say yes. A late-boot that scuzzy deserves a penalty. Fair results might have been obviated on a challenge no one saw. 

Bookie will spare you a full-draw up of Park Hang-Seo’s 5-4-1. Suffice to say that I observe a truly brilliant arrangement on my personal board. Phan Van Duc moved out to the wing. Do Hung Dung and Do Duy Manh dropped back to shore up the defense. The Korean coach masterfully arranged his selection. Particularly impressive was how quickly they could re-format into a 5-3-2 with Nguyen Huy Hong joining either Van Duc or Cong Phuong up top. Unfortunately, they were unable to employ that shift often enough to really threaten.

Van Hao’s inability to do much on the left flank sputtered plenty of attacks. Trong Huang did a little better on the opposite side, but he often stranded too many of his colleagues with some silly on-ball antics. Van Toan was once again completely anonymous after his introduction. It’s been a deplorable tournament for him. Most everyone else played above par in a serviceable finale to a respectable campaign. 

 6th Place—Australia 

Aussie Contingent Members cry out for “Regime Change” following a meek tournament in which their beloved Roos failed to score in three of five matches. Bookie concurs that some mistakes were made, but ultimately chalks the disappointing campaign up to Aussie injury woes. We’ll never truly know how capable this incarnation might have been. The loss of Aaron Mooy and Martin Boyle proved too much to bear. A fully fit Mathew Leckie would have also significantly altered the dynamic. 

Admittedly, fans had every right to feel disgruntled by a final performance severely lacking in originality. One cannot say that the players didn’t display a sense of urgency, but only two quality chances on goal isn’t remotely satisfying. We really didn’t see any creative quality in the final third. Crossing, dribbling, and handling were all awkward and sludgy. Set-piece deliveries were atrocious. Bookie counted nearly twenty efforts on goal that were so wide of the mark that they might as well not have counted at all. 

Bookie judges any grievances regarding the officiating to be illegitimate. The disallowed goal was clearly offside and the ref kept a fastidious clock in spite of the late injury timeouts. 

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—Australia—Match Three (4-3-2-1) (1/15/19) 

                         Jaime Maclaren
C. Ikonomidis      Tom Rogic        Awer Mabil
         Massimo Luongo            Jackson Irvine
  Aziz Behich                                   Rhyan Grant
           Mark Milligan      Milos Degenek
                          Mathew Ryan

 Lineup—Australia—Match Four (4-3-2-1) (1/21/19) 

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

 Lineup—Australia—Match Five—PROJECTED (4-3-2-1) (1/23/19) 

                               Jaime Maclaren                       
     Chris Ikonomidas                   Awer Mabil                 
  Massimo Luongo    M. Milligan   Jackson Irvine
  Josh Risdon                                    Milos Degenek
                  Trent Sainsbury Rhyan Grant
                                Matthew Ryan

 Lineup—Australia—Match Five—Actual (4-2-2-2) (1/25/19) 

            Jaime Maclaren    Apostolos Giannou
Robbie Kruse                            Chris Ikonomidas
             Mark Milligan     Jackson Irvine
  Aziz Behich                                   Rhyan Grant
           Trent Sainsbury      Milos Degenek
                          Mathew Ryan

Plenty of early promise confirms this wasn’t the worst of ideas. Kruse actually did a magnificent job creating space for himself. Though it wasn’t a pleasant sight to behold, one can hardly blame him for shrieking at his teammates on occasion. They totally failed to recognize how wide open he was. 

After praising Jaime Maclaren’s work ethic for the entire tournament, bookie must concede he can no longer defend him. Same applies to Irvine. They were both turgid. Average grades for Giannou, Ikonomidas, and Sainsbury. As I suspected, both fullbacks continued to fall in form after their peak performance in the third match. Something should have been done to address that. 

Milligan in midfield simply didn’t work….again… it’s no longer 2015. Mabil and Leckie were awful in relief. The former in particular looked completely rattled, visibly hyperventilating at times at making numerous mental errors. Of course we can’t broach the topic of “mental errors” without mentioning Degenek’s hideous back-pass. Yikes. Having mentioned it, let’s leave him alone. His won’t find himself in a pleasant place for quite some time.  


 5th Place—South Korea 

Much like their Aussie counterparts, Bento’s men appear to have simply run out of ideas. Far too many possession spells ended in banal rearward passes and centerback switches.  Long upfield balls from the central midfielders and flankers could hardly be described as searching. Nothing but a bunch of hopeful chucks from the back. Intimidated by the Qatari defensive setup, none of the attacking players even tried to establish themselves in the box. Even when the Taeguks were able to break there were simply no targets to hit. 

Ugh. How quickly fortunes can shift in tournament football. Following possibly the worst opening halves of football we’ve seen through 48 fixtures, a mentally-taxed Korean side continued to fizzle and flop for the duration. Touches were heavy. Runs were cut off. Passes were imprecise and un-incisive. Possession got thoroughly wasted as no one wished to assume the mantle of playmaker. Son Heung-Min’s takes public responsibility for his side’s laconic and empty performance. In this bookmaker’s opinion, the miniscule amount of positive work came from him. 

Much of it came down to poor tactics and even worse adjustments. We confront an instance in which the head coach must accept responsibility.

 S.S.S. Tactical Breakdown

 Lineup—South Korea—Match Three (4-2-3-1) (1/16/19) 

                                  Hwang Ui-Jo
Lee Chung-Yong    Son Heung-Min     Hwang Hee-Chan    
             Hwang In-Beom   Jung Woo-Young
Kim Jin-Su                                          Kim Moon-Hwan
                    Kim Min-Jae    Kim Young-Gwon
                               Kim Seung-Gyu       

 Lineup—South Korea—Match Four (4-2-3-1) (1/22/19) 

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

 Lineup—South Korea—Match Five—PROJECTED (4-2-3-1) (1/23/19) 

                                    Hwang Ui-Jo      
Lee Chung-Yong      Son Heung-Min    Hwang Hee-Chan                
                Hwang In-Beom      Jung Woo-Young  
 Kim Jin-Su                                                    Lee Yong             
                     Kim Min-Jae      Kim Young-Gwon
                                 Kim Seung-Gyu

 Lineup—South Korea—Match Five—Actual (4-2-3-1) (1/25/19) 

                                 Hwang Ui-Jo
Lee Chung-Yong    Son Heung-Min     Hwang In-Beom    
                   Ju Se-Jong             Jung Woo-Young
Kim Jin-Su                                                  Lee Yong
                    Kim Min-Jae    Kim Young-Gwon
                               Kim Seung-Gyu       

As we discussed in the previous post, tournament teams can often fall victim to their own success. Keeping it fresh remains a priority, but Bento screwed himself horribly with an illogical midfield shift that threw them off from the start. 

No idea why Hwang Hee-Chan got pulled. Assuming there was a reason behind it, it would have made much more sense to deploy Lee Jae-Sung, Koo Ja-Cheol or Ji Dong-Won at his position. As the bookie frequently noted, there was a way to exploit the Qatari’s weak side. This wasn’t it. Hwang In-Beom showed no early intent to hold the plane, forcing Son Heung-Min over to the right to compensate. 

Having begun the game off-balance, the midfield never fully recovered over the first 45. Woo-Young and Se-Jong kept listing right as well. Jin-Su, Min-Jae, and Chung-Yong got demolished over on the left while Lee Yong’s potential got completely squandered on the crowded rightward third axis.

One expected adjustments at half-time. None were forthcoming. A light lecture might have fixed the drift, but Se-Jong and Woo-Young maintained their loci even as it rapidly became apparent it wasn’t working. Unbelievable procrastination from the Portuguese guru. Bento waited until the 74th to finally sub off the completely ineffective In-Beom and perplexingly didn’t reformat to a 4-3-3 until around the 86th

As lethargic a performance as it was from the enervated side, bookie believes the favorites still could have pulled through had they manager at least made some effort to inject life into his starting eleven earlier in the match. Sadly, the anointed favorites once again fail to end 58-year-long-wait despite having the unquestionably deepest and brightest team. ; ( 

Two monumental fixtures ahead in the Lines.

Monday, January 28th   

Japan vs. Iran


A salivating matchup in many respects. Given the weakness of bracket’s other side, there’s every indication that both nations will treat this one as their respective final. Queiroz must guard carefully against overconfidence inherent in his ranks. While Team Melli emerge as the obvious favorite, Taremi’s suspension leaves them prone to early incoherence in central midfield. By contrast, Moriyasu’s eleven are finally beginning to gel as a unit. 

Little room for error in the selection as a quick Japanese goal could leave the Persians in disarray. We’ve not yet seen if Iran can come from behind. A team’s resilience in playing without the lead speaks volumes about its ability to remain organized. We witnessed plenty of communication breakdowns in the latter stages of the group stage match against Iraq; their only real test thus far. 

Bookie happens to think Taremi was an absolute beast in the previous round. Others may have him rated lower due to the late booking and some poor finishing. I saw him perfectly buttressing Azmoun in what often resembled a lethal 4-4-1-1. Amiri, Ebrahimi, and even Jahanbakhsh have supplied fine distribution from the central midfield role in the tournament, but bookie thinks Taremi marshalled the locale most effectively in both the first and most recent match. He will be missed.

In building the Iranian lineup, bookie doesn’t wish to tinker too with the positioning of either Jahanbakhsh or Dejagah. Both excel at their present positions. Queiroz moved the latter up and out a tad rather than starting Torrabi or Ghoddos. Great results ensued. Much like in the second match, we saw a natural defender placed in the supporting midfield role. This time it worked. Hajsafi was fantastic all over the pitch. We’ll keep him too. 

No real complaints with the back four. Pouraliganji dropped a tick, but even a superb performance from Cheshmi isn’t enough to replace him. Mohammadi surprised with a great turn at left back. Kanaanizadegan appears a true talent. Rezaeian looks settled in. All that’s left to do is move Ebrahimi back up and start Ansarifard. It should work just fine.

Moriyasu may have some surprises in store for us up, but I’ll conjecture that the Japanese manager mostly has his selection sorted out. Nagatomo and Sakai are clearly the fullbacks, capable of switching sides on rare occasions. They work well with the centerback pairing of Yoshida and Tomiyasu. The latter has had some concentration issues, but remains too big a threat on set-pieces to leave out.

Endo and Shibasaki work well slightly ahead in defensive midfield. They’ll maintain their deployment for the third consecutive match. Haraguchi and Doan also remain unchanged on the offensive flanks. Really impressed with the work they put in against the Vietnamese. Doan can also work well in centralized distribution. I prefer affording him some width. So much explosive potential there. 

Forecasting the strikers proves much more difficult. Minamino seems to have done just enough to retain his role, but I honestly don’t know if it’ll be Muto or Osako over Kitagawa. We’ve barely seen the Werder Bremen man since his brace in the first match. Something’s up. Either he isn’t fit or he’s fallen out. The fact that he’s not been included in back-to-back elimination matches betrays something.

I thus think the trainer will tap Muto…and I think it’s a mistake. Insufficient pop from the Saumrai up front. Azmoun, who truly dazzled in a five-star return to form, carries the day for the Persian Princes.  

The long wait is nearly over. It’s now Iran’s crown to lose.

Projected Lineups:

 “Samurai Blue” (4-4-2) 

          Yoshinori Muto  Takumi Minamino
Genki Haraguchi                             Ritsu Doan
                Wataru Endo Gaku Shibasaki                
Yuto Nagatomo                              Hiroki Sakai             
             Maya Yoshida  Takehiro Tomiyasu       
                          Shuichi Gonda                   

  “Team Melli” (4-5-1) 

                           Sardar Azmoun         
A. Jahanbakhsh  Omid Ebrahimi     A. Dejagah                  
           Karim Ansarifard     Ehsan Hajsafi 
M. Mohammadi                              Ramin Rezaeian
              M. Pouraliganji  H. Kanaanizadegan
                        Alireza Beiranvand
Prop Bets (as always, feel free to offer your own)

Over/Under—3 Goals  
120 Minutes—2 to 1
Penalty Shootout—3 to 1

Kitagawa start—2 to 1
Osako start—2 to 1
Azmoun brace—Straight Up
Beiranvand howler—3 to 1

THE LINE: Iran +1 Goal

Tuesday, January 29th   

Qatar vs. U.A.E.


Can your friendly bookie make it three successive incorrect picks with respect to Qatar? One must work exceptionally hard to get it wrong thrice on the bounce. It’s tempting to go with the hosts here as they have the saner, more emotionally well-adjusted manager. Alberto Zaccheroni’s long-term tactics continue to suggest that he can replicate his 2011 run to the final. Felix Sanchez just looks like a douche who repeatedly kicks the locker room radiator then savagely feasts upon the entrails of a small rodent. Bookie wonders if his players will tire of him. 

The rapacious urge to punch the Cross Catalan in the face notwithstanding, bookie admits the Qatari trainer made some pretty shrewd moves. Abulkarim Al-Ali and Salem Al-Hajri doubled up on the left to replace the suspended Hassan and Madibo. Khouki thrived at his usual position on the right with help from Miguel. Moving Afif over completely sealed the side. In a direct answer to my dire prediction, the Maroons were able to run an effective three-man-defensive front at times. These guys really know how to defy. 

We’ve once again much work to do in order to project the Qatari lineup. Now Abdulaziz Hatem and Bassam Al-Rawi find themselves suspended. For those keeping track, that’s the only two goalscorers of the elimination rounds forcibly sidelined. Hatem’s absence doesn’t trouble one too much as Madibo can easily reprise his role. The loss of the young Iraqi-born centerback, however, damages perhaps the most effective centerback pairing in the tournament. Salman won't be as stellar without his partner. 

Veteran Hamid Ismail doesn’t seem a good fit for the center, so bookie inserts Al-Ali all the way back. In principle Madibo could work back there too, but I don’t want to move Khouki forward again. He stays on the defensive third axis directly behind Afif. Boudiaf returns to pair with him, but gets license to forward feed Almoez Abdullah Ali more often.

Five changes to the Team Zayed in the previous match. Three new centerbacks were needed in order to re-organize without Khalifa Ghanim. Injuries to Mohammed Ahmed Gharib and Fares Juma mean we should see a return to business as usual. Saleh and Bandar back to their usual positions. Khalifa Al-Hammadi in the event that Ismail Ahmed can’t go. 

I won't rule out the prospect of deploying Bandar on the right wing proper. He combined with Ismail Al-Hammadi splendidly at times at Matar didn’t turn in a convincing performance at all. The lack of a viable alternative at right back, inspiring work from Mohammed Abdulrahman, and Esmaeel’s return keeps him there. Salmeen gets dropped while Amer and Khalfan return.

We’re left with two evenly matches sides prepared to engage in one helluva Gulf Derby. The tournament’s previous Golden Boot winner looks to reassert himself against the one who will surely claim this year’s trophy. Almoez Abdullah Ali hasn’t exactly been quiet since his record-smashing seven goal breakout performance in the group stage. He’s been breaking forward tenaciously and nearly tallied early against the Koreans. Only an unfortunate slip kept him out. 

As concerned as I am regarding the Qatari centerback situation and the way in which Madibo matches up poorly against Khalfan, Mabkhout’s continued stumbles gives the all-important attacking edge to the Maroons. With their main striker looking worse in each match and Khalil still struggling, I think the hosts get outgunned in a game that gets thrilling once it opens up.

Bookie finally tips Qatar in what he hopes becomes an instant classic.

Projected Lineups:

 “The Maroon Vinyls” (4-2-3-1) 

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

 “Zayed’s Sons” (4-2-3-1) 

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

Prop Bets (as always, feel free to offer your own)

Over/Under—4 Goals  
120 Minutes—Straight Up
Penalty Shootout—2 to 1

Almoez Abdullah brace—2 to 1
Al-Sheeb howler—2 to 1
Bandar goal—Straight Up
Fares Juma start—3 to 1

THE LINE: Qatar +1 Goal