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Monday, January 3, 2011

Road to the Finals

Road to the Finals Print E-mail
 
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The AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011™ will feature 16 of the best teams in Asia, vying for a truly international title from January 7-29 next year. The teams took different paths to the Finals with six of them, including hosts Qatar, not taking part in the qualifiers. Ten sides took the qualifying route, thrilling millions of fans across the world.

Three teams - AFC Asian Cup 2007 champions Iraq, runners-up Saudi Arabia and third-place finishers Korea Republic - got direct entry into the 2011 Finals. India and DPR Korea qualified by virtue of winning the second-tier AFC national team competition, the AFC Challenge Cup, in 2008 and 2010 respectively.

Ten teams worked their way through a maze of qualifiers spread over 15 months. Read below how the teams navigated the choppy waters to put themselves within reach of a prized title.


Japan
Japan

By their high standards a fourth-place finish at the last AFC Asian Cup was a disappointment for Japan and it also meant that they missed out on automatic qualification to Qatar 2011.

The three-time continental champions booked their place in the finals by topping Group A with an impressive record of five wins and one defeat but the Blue Samurai made a sluggish start to their campaign as they laboured to a 2-1 home win over Yemen before going down 1-0 to perennial rivals Bahrain in Manama.

An emphatic 6-0 home win over Hong Kong followed by a 4-0 triumph in the former British colony sealed qualification before an experimental side needed a hat-trick from substitute Sota Hiroyama to come from two goals down to defeat an improved Yemen 3-2 in Sana’a.

Head coach Takashi Okada brought the big guns back for their final match and the move paid off as Japan extracted revenge for their earlier defeat with a 2-0 win over Bahrain, who by that stage had also already qualified.


Bahrain
Bahrain

Bahrain reached their third successive AFC Asian Cup finals by finishing runners-up in Group A to Japan, who have become regular adversaries of the Gulf nation in recent years with the two having played each other six times in continental and World Cup qualifying campaigns since 2008.

After a 3-1 win in Hong Kong, Milan Macala’s side took the initiative over Japan with a slender 1-0 victory in Manama but Bahrain’s strength in depth was called into question when a side devoid of a number of key players were comprehensively beaten by Yemen.

Bahrain followed up that 3-0 loss in Sana’a with an emphatic 4-0 victory over their Gulf Cup rivals that ensured qualification to Qatar 2011 but they missed out topping the group after going down 2-0 to Japan.



Australia
Australia
The Socceroos had to wait until the final round of fixtures to secure their place at the AFC Asian Cup finals for the second time in their history as a member of the Asian Football Confederation.

With Kuwait and Oman mathematically still in contention for a place in Qatar, Australia would have missed out had the Gulf sides drawn and had they lost at home to Indonesia.

However, a 42nd minute Mark Milligan strike at the Suncorp Stadium meant the goalless draw in Muscat had no bearing on Australia as they finished top of the table two points clear of Kuwait and a further point ahead of third-placed Oman.

Utilising an almost exclusively domestic squad as Pim Verbeek used his international stars for the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, Australia struggled to gel in the early stages, going down to a shock 1-0 home loss to Kuwait after a goalless draw in Indonesia before back-to-back wins over Oman and a 2-2 draw in Kuwait put them in the Group B driving seat.



Kuwait
Kuwait

After missing out on the AFC Asian Cup 2007™ finals, Kuwait ensured an immediate return to top level competition by edging out Gulf neighbours Oman on the final day of Group B action.

With Australia beating Indonesia, the Kuwaitis needed a point to be sure of joining the Socceroos in Qatar and the Al Azraq achieved this by holding Oman to a goalless draw at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex.

The goalless stalemate in Muscat was Kuwait’s third successive draw of their qualifying campaign, the same number as bottom of the table Indonesia, after holding the Indonesians 1-1 in Jakarta and Australia 2-2 at home as Goran Tufegdzic’s side failed to build on consecutive victories.

Following a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Oman on home soil in their Group B curtain raiser, Kuwait got their campaign back on track as a 37th minute strike from defender Mesaed Al Enzi ensured an impressive 1-0 victory in Australia before returning to their winning ways in Kuwait with a 2-1 win over Indonesia. However, Kuwait couldn’t claim another victory that would have secured qualification, setting up a final round showdown with Oman.




United_Arab_Emirates
United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates ensured participation in the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011™ finals for the eighth time in their history by finishing top of Group C, edging out runners-up and fellow Qatar 2011 qualifiers Uzbekistan.

Srecko Katenec’s side made a blistering start to the group, which had been reduced to three teams after India become the first nation to qualify to the continental finals by winning the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008, by hammering Malaysia 5-0 in their opening fixture.

The UAE could have taken a considerable step closer to Qatar a week later but were beaten 1-0 by Uzbekistan in Sharjah before returning to winning ways on home soil as the Gulf side earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Malaysia, who were already out of the reckoning following back-to-back defeats by the Uzbeks, sealed qualification.

The 1996 AFC Asian Cup runners-up rounded off their campaign by avenging their earlier defeat to the Uzbeks, winning 1-0 in Tashkent courtesy of goal three minutes into second-half stoppage time from Al Jazira midfielder Sultan Al Menhali.



Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan became one of the first nations to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011™ finals when they recorded their third successive Group C win on November 18, joining, along side hosts Qatar and the top three finishers in 2007, fellow qualifiers Syria, who secured their passage on the same day, and 2008 AFC Challenge Cup winners India.

India’s Challenge Cup victory meant Bob Houghton’s side were withdrawn from qualifying Group C leaving just three teams to battle it out for two places with the Uzbeks and the UAE for the tickets to Qatar ahead of ASEAN outsiders Malaysia.

Uzbekistan seized the early initiative when Farhod Tadjiyev’s 30th minute strike gave them a 1-0 win in the UAE before back-to-back 3-1 victories over the Malaysians ensured the Central Asians reached the AFRC Asian Cup finals for the fourth consecutive tournament since making their debut in 1996.

But Uzbekistan’s campaign was to end on a low note when the UAE extracted revenge for their earlier defeat in Sharjah, with the Gulf side’s winning goal coming in the third minute of second-half stoppage-time.




Iran
Iran

Three-time Asian champions Iran comfortably topped Group E, finishing the campaign a clear five points ahead of Jordan to ensure their participation in the AFC Asian Cup finals for a record-equalling 12th time.

Iran, joint holders of the AFC Asian Cup appearance record with Korea Republic who were spared the qualification round after finishing third at the 2007 tournament, began in style, hitting Singapore for six without reply.

Iran laboured to a goalless draw in Thailand before winning two of their next three games with a 1-0 defeat in Jordan sandwiching victories over the Hashemite Kingdom in Tehran (1-0) and in Singapore against the three-time ASEAN champions (3-1).

Defeat of Singapore booked Iran’s ticket to Qatar but they still had a part to play in determining which of their three Group E opponents joined them, with the Jordanians earning the second berth thanks to their defeat of Singapore and the Iranians’ 1-0 win over a Thai side needing all three points to have any chance of qualification.



Jordan
Jordan
Jordan’s qualification to the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011™ came right down to a thrilling final day with both Thailand and Singapore still in with a chance of joining Group E winners Iran.

And in the end, the side from the Hashemite Kingdom needed a little help from the three-time Asian champions who would have been joined in Qatar by Thailand had they lost to Bryan Robson’s charges even if Jordan defeated Singapore in their final fixture.

Jordan made a shocking start in their quest to reach the AFC Asian Cup for only the second time in their history when a goalless draw at home to Thailand, a 2-1 defeat in Singapore and a 1-0 loss to Iran saw them garner just one point from a possible nine in the first-half of the campaign.

Jordan returned the compliment to Iran, winning 1-0 in Amman and while they dropped further points with another goalless draw against Thailand they managed to pull their qualifying campaign out of the fire thanks to a 2-1 home win over Singapore and Javad Nekounam’s 90th minute winner at the Azadi.



Syria
Syria
Syria reached the AFC Asian Cup finals for the first time since 1996 in impressive fashion as the Middle Eastern side not only became one of the first to book their ticket to Qatar but also emerged from the qualifying campaign as the only undefeated side.

It started back on January 14, 2009, in Aleppo, when three first-half goals laid the foundations of a 3-2 win over 2004 AFC Asian Cup hosts and runners-up China before the Syrians made it two wins out of two with a 2-0 victory over Lebanon in Beirut a week later.

Qualification was assured when Syria made it a hat-trick of Group D wins when they defeated Vietnam in Hanoi but they left it right to the wire with Raja Rafaee getting the crucial goal four minutes into second-half stoppage time.

With at least a second-place finish guaranteed, Syria’s momentum slowed and their winning run came to an end although the 1-1 draw with China, which followed a goalless stalemate at home to Vietnam, meant that three points against Lebanon would see them top the table and they accomplished this with an emphatic 4-0 win in Damascus.



China
China

China’s qualification to the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, which will be the East Asian nation’s 10th participation in the tournament, was the perfect fillip for Chinese fans who suffered the disappointment of their country’s failure to reach the final qualifying round of the 2010 World Cup.

It wasn’t the most auspicious of starts for China who were beaten 3-2 in their Group D opener by Syria but things turned around in their first home match a week later when the Chinese put ASEAN champions Vietnam to the sword, running out 6-1 winners in Zhejiang.

Back-to-back wins over Lebanon, who had to come through a two-legged preliminary round match against the Maldives, guaranteed their ticket to Qatar and all that remained to be settled was to see whether or not they could beat fellow qualifiers Syria to top spot in the table.

But in their penultimate match China couldn’t break down a resolute Syrian defence and were held to a goalless draw at home to remain a point behind the West Asians before the Chinese ended their campaign on a positive note with a 2-1 win in Vietnam.

QUALIFIED TEAMS FOR AFC ASIAN CUP QATAR 2011™ FINALS
Direct bye to the Finals
Iraq3 IraqSaudi_ArabiaSaudi ArabiaSouth_KoreaKorea Republic
IndiaIndiaNorth_KoreaDPR KoreaQatarQatar (host)
Eligible through qualifying
AustraliaAustraliaUzbekistanUzbekistanJapanJapanBahrainBahrain
KuwaitKuwaitUnited_Arab_EmiratesUAESyriaSyriaChinaChina PR
IranIR IranJordanJordan