Qatar didn’t have the toughest group to emerge from, though they must be given credit for getting the job done with minimal fuss. Félix Sánchez Bas’ men come into this first knockout match having won three out of three at this tournament, while they’ve scored ten goals and have conceded none in the process. Such numbers are certainly encouraging. In scoring ten goals, Qatar have looked useful in the final third; they’ve looked good in possession, have created chances and have had absolutely no problem applying the finishing touches. Iraq also showed plenty of promise during the group stages. Srečko Katanec’s men won their opening two games and thus booked their place in this round with a game to spare. They weren’t overly impressive when drawing 0-0 against a very good Iran side on match-day three, but they didn’t give too much away and ultimately avoided defeat in a match that they didn’t need to win. In the betting, Both Teams to Score, which has yielded a profit in each of the last four renewals of this fixture, stands out.
It was all very easy for South Korea in the groups. Paulo Bento’s men barely got out of first gear when beating the Philippines by a goal to nil first time out, while they didn’t need to do too much more to beat either Kyrgyzstan or China. After three easy wins, one of the pre-tournament favourites will be looking to continue moving in the right direction. Quite simply, the South Koreans have far more to offer than their opponents on Tuesday, at both ends of the pitch. A disparity in quality is expected to be apparent right from the word go and punters can profit by backing South Korea -1 handicap. Bento’s side are yet to concede a goal at this tournament and Bahrain have shown nothing to suggest that they can put the Reds under enough pressure to find the back of the net, while South Korea have more than enough forward quality to hurt an opposing back-line that has looked shaky against lesser attacks.
Japan have won each of their first two matches in Group F, though they didn’t exactly make light work of beating Turkmenistan on match-day one, while they weren’t overly convincing against Oman last time out. If they’re to get the better of Uzbekistan, who’re currently above the Japanese on goal difference, then Samurai Blue may need to up their game. On match-day one, Japan took a while to hit their stride; their trailed Turkmenistan by a goal to nil at half-time, though in their second half their extra quality told, especially in the final third. Second time out, Samurai Blue improved at both ends of the pitch, though they were once again underwhelming. From a creativity point of view, they offered a good amount, while they gave little away, though they were wasteful in front of goal. It’s better to create chances than offer little going forward, but the finishing of Hajime Moriyasu’s men will need to improve if they’re to go all the way in UAE. Having looked dangerous in scoring four goals last time out, it’s easy to feel that Uzbekistan could cause the Japanese more than just a few problems on Thursday afternoon. Japan have the quality to get seriously involved in the final third and they certainly have plenty of room for improvement in that respect.
When the draw was made, the South Koreans probably fancied themselves to emerge from Group C with minimal fuss, though China have so far led the way and currently sit top thanks to their superior goal difference. South Korea must win this match if they’re to advance as group winners. Given that they’re one of the most prestigious nations at this tournament (in footballing terms), South Korea were expected to make light work of reaching the knockout rounds, though the way in which they won their opening two games was far from impressive. A 1-0 win was all they could manage against the Philippines on match-day one, while they could only score a single goal when defeating Kyrgyzstan last time out. Unsurprisingly, Paulo Bento’s men dominated against both Philippines and Kyrgyzstan, while they did create a reasonable amount of scoring opportunities, though their end-product was lacking. The boss will be hoping that the addition of star player Son Heung-min, who has now joined up with the squad, will help in that respect. Against Kyrgyzstan on match-day one, South Korea did create plenty, as they clocked a useful expected-goals for figure of 2.62, though they didn’t look overly sharp at the back. On that occasion, they gave up a few chances, as the fact that they ended the game having conceded 1.61 expected goals suggests. A better side than Kyrgyzstan would’ve made them pay. With marksman Wu Lei in their ranks, China have shown that they can score goals, so Bento’s men will need to sharpen up at the back. From a creativity point of view, China, despite scoring three more goals than Wednesday’s opponents, haven’t quite offered as much as South Korea. The Chinese are currently averaging 1.49 expected goals for, while Korea are averaging 2.26. Such numbers tell us that Korea have more about them offensively, though it is the Dragons who’ve made lighter work of getting the ball in the net. At the other end of the pitch, China have looked the better side. In terms of opportunities, against Kyrgyzstan, Marcello Lippi’s men conceded less than South Korea, who shipped 1.61 expected goals compared to just 0.82 conceded by the Chinese. What’s more, China gave up just 0.05 against Philippines, who mustered 0.46 against South Korea. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s fair to say that South Korea are a better side than China in possession, while they seem to be that bit more creative. However, they’ve looked more open at the back and have not exactly made light work of making their dominance pay. On this basis, it’s easy to feel that the visitors have been slightly underestimated in the early betting.
Iran have so far waltzed through Group D; they made light work of beaten Yemen on match-day one, while the Vietnam were also no match for Carlos Queiroz’s men. Two wins, seven goals scored, back-to-back clean sheets, Iran have impressed as much as anyone over the first two match-days. On match-day one, Tea Melli thrashed Yemen by five goals to nil, as they made light work of creating chances, scoring goals and keeping things tight at the back. They weren’t as exuberant against Vietnam on match-day two, but they comfortably score two goals and nullified their opponents with minimal fuss. It’s no exaggeration to say that Iran have been the most impressive team from an attacking point of view. It is still early days, so the numbers should be taken with a pinch of salt, but Queiroz’s side currently rank as the best team in the competition in terms of both goals scored and expected goals for. They’re also one of only five teams to have kept back-to-back clean sheets, while only two teams have conceded less expected goals. All round, the Iranians have made a very pleasing start to the tournament. Iraq haven’t looked quite as good as Iran, but that’s not to say that they’ve been poor. Srečko Katanec’s men have also won each of their first two matches, while they too have looked good going forward. Iraq notched three goals against Vietnam on match-day two, while they also found the net on three occasions against Yemen. However, where Iraq’s efforts have differed from Iran’s is at the back. Yemen are a very weak side offensively, so it’s no surprise that the Iraqis came under little pressure, though they didn’t look all that secure when beating Vietnam. Iraq can get forward and make things happen, so it would be unsurprising if they became the first team to really test the Iran back-line at this tournament, but their efforts against Vietnam suggest that they lack the defensive quality to contain one of the best attacks in the tournament.