Finally, an upset, though some may see it as a mild one. Before the tournament, China was seen as a “possible” to get out of the 2015 Asian Cup’s Group B, while Uzbekistan, a semifinalist four years ago in Qatar, was picked by most to reach the knockout round. So when the favorite took the lead just 22 minutes into the teams’ meeting in Brisbane, the script was unfolding as planned. Forget the fact that the opening goal came from a fortunate deflection off a Chinese defender. Uzbekistan would move to six points, while China would move into a tie with Saudi Arabia for second in the group. As it should be.
But after a tournament opening in which favorites like Australia, Japan, Iran, and South Korea (a combined 6-0-0) have been crushing glass slippers, China decided to defy the trend. It was the underdog, true, but why should that prevent Xi Wu from taking advantage of some ridiculous goalkeeping to equalize in the 55th minute? And who’s to say Ke Sun was out of line with his 68th minute goal, one of the tournament’s best thus far? When the 2-1 score held, we had our first unexpected result of the tournament, one that drew the attention of China’s president Xi Jinping (not really, but):
Two games, two wins put China into the quarterfinals as Group B’s winner, having earned the tiebreaker edge over both teams currently three points back. Though Australia or South Korea wait in the next round, Alain Perrin’s already led his team to its primary goal. China will advance out of its group.
Earlier in the day, Saudi Arabia both kept its final eight hopes alive and dispelled the notion it’d be unable to find goals after the injury to star attacker Nassir Al-Shamrani. Thanks to three mistakes in possession by the North Korean defense, the three-time champions posted a 4-1 win over the group’s weakest side, setting up a Saturday, winner-take-all showdown with Uzbekistan for second place.
For the Saudis, however, it isn’t quite winner take all. Thanks to its lopsided win (and the tiebreaker edge that comes with it), Cosmin Olăroiu’s team is a draw away from the knockout round. Not bad for a team that was winless in Qatar.
Off the field
Our mascot correspondent, folks. In case you only thought Maxi Rodriguez turned up his mascot creep when writing for a paycheck, think again. Dude is on brand, all the time, even when it comes to the Asian Cup. And no, you’re not supposed to feel good about this.
Elsewhere, North Korean fans celebrated its first Asian Cup goal in 23 years with … the Poznan?
It’s the worst celebration in soccer – a ceremony that’s so bad that it has crossed the rubicon, embraced its own irony and become hilarious.
At least, I think that’s what’s going on. Are people seriously doing this on its own merit? Well, God love them. It all looks the same in a tweet.
Group C, the tournament’s deepest quartet, is back in action with a United Arab Emirates side that opened with a 4-1 pasting of Qatar. Crusaders for World Cup justice that it is, UAE was willing to play Qatar again, and again, and again until the Gulf nation relinquished its rights to the 2022 World Cup. When it turned out that entire scenario was the fabrication of a blogger in Miami, attention returned to more realistic questions, like whether UAE or Iran could be derailed before their Sunday face-off:
Bahrain vs. United Arab Emirates – 1:00 p.m. Eastern, Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Qatar vs. Iran – 3:00 p.m. Eastern, Stadium Australia, Sydney
Where they stand
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
Day 5: How can two perfect teams be headed in different directions?
Day 6: The tournament’s first upset puts China into the final eight