What are we supposed to think about Iran? I don’t ask because it’s mysterious. Iran is a defensively stalwart, creatively inept side that might be too dependent on Ashkan Dejagah going forward. That’s pretty clear.
I ask because that state is deeply unsatisfying. By now we know: This is what you get from a Carlos Queiroz side. But particularly over an opening two games that represented very little risk for Group C’s highest rated team, it would have been nice to see Iran play closer to its talent level. Instead, we’ve gotten a 2-0 win over Bahrain and today’ s 1-0 result over Qatar. 180 scoreless minutes are nice, but common, Carlos. Think of the children.
It’s not that Iran wasn’t the better side. It was, albeit in spells. Perhaps it could have put in a better showing against Qatar, who had more “joy” than expected, but there’s still no indication Queiroz’s team can’t make a run to the semifinals. At that point, it’ll have to improve, with Australia or South Korea unlikely to be as forgiving, but right now we’re still in the group stage. There’s room to work out the wrinkles.
The problems are the same we talked about before. A one-goal gap against a much poorer side is tantamount to saying “we’re willing to risk a bad call, a missed assignment on a set piece, or more randomness rather than create a bigger margin.” There was no urgency to put Qatar out of reach. That, and you can’t help but watch Iran and think “I could be seeing a more entertaining product.”
And it’s not just about goals. Yeah, goals are good, but there are other ways to entertain. Having 40 percent possession against a far inferior opponent? That can be pulled off, too, but it risks a game where Qatar (or some other inferior team) is becomes the protagonist. If that’s Australia or Japan? Fine. I’m down. They can do things. If it’s a team that can’t carry the drama? Thanks for nothing, Carlos.
Is Queiroz’s first objective to entertain? Hell, no. Do I want to be entertained? Of course. Those are two separate things. I can both acknowledge Iran could win this tournament while noting I have little interest in watching them do so.
On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates:
Scoring with the first attack of the match, Ali Mabkhout set a tournament record for fastest goal, notching his third of the competition on a disgustingly straight-forward movement.
Bahrain would equalize before halftime, but a second half own goal off the head of captain Mohamed Husain kept UAE even atop Group C. It wasn’t as convincing as its Sunday evisceration of Qatar, but the result keeps zeros in those loss and draw columns.
It also means Group C’s knockout round spots are taken, though Sunday’s match remains important. If Iran wins, it probably avoids Japan, Group D’s likely winner, in the quarterfinals. Draw or lose, and UAE gets to avoid the defending champions in the next round.
Off the field
Important Nutmeg news:
This is the virtue of picking a mascot with fingers and thumbs. An elephant seems like a good idea? Better think it out. When you want to promote the official downloadable app of your given year’s major tournament, how is a trunk and a tail going to get the job done?
Elsewhere, rumors have surfaced linking Australia’s Club Brugge goalkeeper Maty Ryan with Liverpool. Just obligatory big tournament gossip? Perhaps, but when the Belgian club’s former sporting director speculates the Socceroos’ No. 1 won’t be in Belgium much longer, people are going to play with the puzzle. If that puzzle involves a move that can fund a another “t” in his first name, people are going to notice.
The Reds need a keeper. They’ve had Australians before. Ryan apparently wants to move to England, and there’s no proof that he (nor I) can’t be a successful starter for Liverpool. It’s pretty solid stuff.
Group D’s second set of games features what will likely be the group’s most important game: Japan against Iraq in Brisbane. The Samurai Blue’s the heavy favorite, but coming off a win over Jordan, Iraq will be looking for a draw which could essentially clinch its fate. The Lions will be big favorites in Sunday’s group finale against Palestine, meaning a draw against the group’s heavyweight will put it on course for a quarterfinal-clinching seven points.
Palestine vs. Jordan – 1:00 a.m. Eastern, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium
Iraq vs Japan – 3:00 a.m. Eastern, Brisbane Arena
Where they stand
Shout out to Wikipedia, again.
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
Day 7: Iran may be good and unwatchable