The 2015 Asian Cup took a day off on Wednesday, undoubtedly news to everyone who forgot the AFC was waging its confederation championship this month. Given the games aren’t really accessible in the United States (and tend to kick off at 1 a.m. or 3 a.m. Eastern), the neglect’s understandable. Why care about something you can’t watch?
There’s an obvious answer to that question: because soccer fandom isn’t about watching games. It’s about saying you know something your friends don’t, and, given none of them are watching the Asian Cup, either, this competition represents an opportunity. Learn a few things about the tournament, and you can chuck them in your friends’ faces at happy hour, or while sitting next to each other in the bathroom. It’s not like they’re going to correct you.
Here are a few things we found important after the group stage. By my union’s rules, I have to present these as either a power ranking or a things we learned list. So it’s a power ranking.
2015 Asian Cup Power Rankings
21. Qatar – Things the soccer world loves: Beards, being ultzy, and scheudenfraude, which is the only reason why the last place team in this group may be of interest:
Suck it, Human Rights violators. Karma’s spoken on the field!
After Tuesday’s games, that total’s up to 24 without a tie, making the 2015 Asian Cup an American Sports Fan’s ideal tournament. Because draws are for pussies, amirite?
19. Iraq – Every quarterfinalist is on this countdown, but Iraq’s the one that’s coming out of the weakest group. Palestine was never a threat. Jordan was disappointing. Iraq wasn’t going to take Group D from Japan, so here we are. The team has a derby with Iran on Friday.
18. Moths – Australia managed to stave off the invasion, but it took a bunch of soldiers dressed like ghostbusters to thwart an attack of these creepy assholes:
17. China – Allow me to coin the phrase “backhanded insult” while noting Alain Perrin’s team has been the least-impressive of the tournament’s four perfect sides. But it’s still 3-0-0, so what do I know? Maybe this is the start of a Spain-esque streak of dominance, one that will allow us to create a new genre of Xi Jinping-inspired art:
16. China’s surprise – Even more impressive than 3-0-0? China’s not supposed to be here. The team wanted to make the knockout round, but nobody predicted perfection. It’s the first time in team history China’s gone unscathed in group play.
15. Ball boys – China’s fate was so hard to predict because nobody knew about the secret weapon. On Day 2, Stephen, an 11-year-old ball boy in Brisbane, told Wang Delei which way to dive on Naif Hazazi’s penalty kick, saving a would-be opening goal and allowing China to take a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia.
14. Uzbekistan – For two rounds, Group B’s favorite stumbled, but thanks to a shakeup that landed two-time Asian Player of the Year Server Djeparov on the bench, the Uzbeks played closer to expectations against Saudi Arabia, winning 3-1. The team will be underdogs on Thursday against South Korea, but an upset would only be a mild one.
13. United Arab Emirates – Omar Abdulrahman and the UAE put up six goals in two games, giving us reason to think they could knock out Iran in Group C’s decider. But Iran Iraned the hell out of them, won 1-0 (despite never having the ball), and sent the Emiratis to a meeting with Japan. Good luck.
12. Australia’s new stars – Ange Postegolou has made it a point to inject new blood into the Socceroos. After two four-goal performances, he’s been vindicated, with nobody shining brighter than Massimo Luongo. The former Tottenham midfielder has proven he deserves a spot above England’s third tier — bad news for his current employer, Swindon Town.
11. Uzbekistan’s wakeup call – Head coach Mirjalol Qosimov is a braver man than I. I wouldn’t have benched Djeparov. I wouldn’t have benched Timur Kapadze. In a make-or-break game, I wouldn’t have rolled the dice on 23-year-old Sardor Rashidov, who came through with two goals against Saudi Arabia. But that’s why Qosimov’s in Australia, and I’m in Miami watching games on tape. That man transcends the ‘U after Q’ rule.
10. Ki Sung-yueng – 87 passes, at a 96 percent clip. Then, 64 passes, 93 percent complete in game two. Against Australia, the numbers weren’t nearly as impressive (37 passes, 81 pct.), but Ki’s through ball for Lee Keun-ho was the key play on the game’s only goal (scored by Lee Jeong-hyeop). The Swansea City holder has been one of the best midfielders of the tournament, a crucial part of a South Korean team that’s battled injuries throughout.
9. South Korea – Are we supposed to think Uli Stielike’s team is good? At one point in the tournament, he was expressing his doubts, too, but the team’s 1-0 win on Saturday to secure Group A was impressive. Australia leads the tournament with eight goals, but none came against South Korea.
8. Iran – Like South Korea and Japan, Iran has yet to concede. Perhaps most worrisome for opponents, that’s the team’s M.O. If Iran’s not allowing goals, that means things are going to plan, and while it may seem a truism to note a team that doesn’t allow goals may not lose, Carlos Queiroz’s one-dimensional plan could get the tournament’s highest-rated team to the final two.
6. Australia – The host lost to South Korea to close Group A play, but if the two teams played again, there’s every reason to think the Socceroos would prevail. Postegolou’s team came into the tournament with doubts, but after three games and a +6 goal difference, it’s proven to be a legitimate contender. If the attack continues generating chances, Japan may have it hands full in the semifinals.
5. Selfies with female fans – 😑
4. Australians – How would a tournament at the edge of the world work? Well. Very, very well.
395,896 people have shown up at matches thus far, and the best attended games are yet to come. 2011’s tournament in Qatar drew 405,361, total.
3. Keisuke Honda takeover? – This tournament needs a hero, and 2011’s seems ready to step up. Take a look at highlights from Japan’s Group C finale:
Honda is the tournament’s most dangerous weapon. If he plays like that over the next three games, Japan will retain its title. And Honda, already with three goals in as many games, may win a second straight MVP honor.
2. Nutmeg – Did I say this tournament doesn’t have a hero? I was wrong.
This is Maradona-esque dominance. It’s the incisiveness of Ronaldo combined with the romance of Zidane.
I can’t even think of another mascot that’s performed at this level through the first stage of a tournament. It transcends soccer. We’re watching Chamberlain’s 100-point game, or Beamon’s Mexico City leap, only instead of a single game or moment, it’s lasting for weeks.
This is history, written by a dog — one that can’t hold a pencil.
1. Japan – Tuesday’s 2-0 result against Jordan doesn’t scream dominance, but find the devil in the details, and you’ll see a team ready to retain its title. In all phases of the game, Japan is among the best in the competition. As a complete package, it’s the team to beat over the final three rounds.