2015 Asian Cup, Day 4: The defending champions announce their arrival

Maybe it was purely temporal, the natural state of the euphoria evaporating over 72 hours, but day four of this year’s Asian Cup felt like the tournament had found its rhythm. Sure, Group D’s teams were taking the field for the first time, but there wasn’t the same type of all-consuming anticipation that we felt this weekend. It seemed like we’ve adjusted – leveled off. And given two of the teams that were taking the field, the only culprit was time.

Tournament favorite and defending champion, Japan, was finally kicking off, with actual soccer potentially putting pre-tournament controversy behind the Samurai Blue and embattled head coach Javier Aguirre. The holders would take on the story of the tournament’s lead up, Palestine, who is taking part in its first major tournament. Granted, the nation qualified via the AFC Challenge Cup, a tournament devoted to Asia’s “emerging” nations, but that charity route couldn’t deter from a piece of Palestinian sports history.

Still, once today’s game kicked off in Newcastle, the reality of the teams’ different stations was apparent. Eight minutes in, the defending champions went up through Yasuhito Endo, a lead that doubled when Shinji Okazaki was set up by Shinji Kagawa in the 25th minute. Drawing a penalty before half-time, Kagawa also played a part in Japan’s third goal (Keisuke Honda’s), with Maya Yoshida ending the scoring in the 50th minute. Calling off the dogs over the final 40 minutes, Aguirre’s men cruised to a 4-0 win.

The day’s second game wasn’t as one-sided, but it was far more boring. Jordan, winless in nine coming into the tournament, rarely looked capable of ending that streak, with a 0-0 final seemingly the best result Ray Wilkins’ team might produce. “Might” ended up carrying the day, though, after this from Yaser Kasim 13 minutes from full time:

It was the second time in three days a late deflected goal settled a match, but whereas the first saw a wounded Saudi Arabia fall to still hopeful China, this one could prove decisive. Japan’s the heavy favorite in Group D, but Iraq was expected to fight it out with Jordan for the group’s second knockout round spot. After Kasim’s goal, the scenarios that put Jordan into the next round all seem far-fetched. With everybody likely to take three points from Palestine, Jordan may need to beat Japan and get help from Iraq to make the final eight.

Off the field

For the third day in four, an injury has bitten a potential knockout round contender, but whereas the first two hit Saudi Arabia (Nasser Al-Shamrani) and Australia (Mile Jedinak), South Korea was dealt Monday’s blow:

The Bolton midfielder left Saturday’s opener after 19 minutes, though Uli Stielike was hopeful one of his most talented players would be back for tomorrow’s match against Kuwait. Now, it appears Lee will be out for the rest of the tournament, a blow that will be compounded if Bayer Leverkusen’s Son Heung-min can’t go:

Today’s big story off the field, however, dated back to China’s victory over Saudi Arabia, a result that wouldn’t have come about if it wasn’t for Wang Delei coming up big on Naif Hazazi’s second half penalty kick. But had it not been for the ballboy in Brisbane, Stephen, Hazazi may have put the Saudis in front. After getting advice before the potentially decisive kick, Wang guided correctly on Hazazi’s try, allowing China to stay scoreless with the favorites.

Just under 20 minutes later, Yu Ha blasted a free kick off the wall and in, giving China its third straight opening match victory.

Tomorrow

Now we find out how good Australia really is. After a convincing win on Friday against Kuwait, the hosts go up against a team more likely to capitalize on its porous defense. By then, both the Socceroos and Oman will know if the South Koreans have maintained their perfect record, potentially without two of their biggest stars.

Kuwait vs. South Korea – 1:00 a.m. Eastern, Canberra Stadium, Canberra

Australia vs. Oman – 3:00 a.m. Eastern, Stadium Australia, Sydney

Where they stand

Shout out to Wikipedia, again.

Group A

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Group B
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Group CScreen Shot 2015-01-12 at 4.16.44 PM

Group DScreen Shot 2015-01-12 at 4.16.38 PM

More

Day 1: Host nations should always cruise
Day 2: Goalkeepers and weather the stars
Day 3: Did our first favorite step forward?
Day 4: The defending champions announce their arrival

WHERE TO WATCH