Australia vs. Uzbekistan (Tuesday 11:25 am EST)
Australia moved to the AFC in 2006 and played in the two finals which have been held since then.
They have the best defense (1 goal in 4 matches) and the best goalkeeper of the tournament, but they managed to score only one goal against each of Jordan, Iraq and South Korea. This fact doesn’t speak highly of their offensive threat.
Watching Australia, I could not help thinking of pre-Klinsmann era’s Germany. The German coach, Holger Osieck, has instilled a German mentality to this team. Their physical strength and tactical awareness helped them get through some of the most difficult games.
Their mostly European based roster has more experience than any other team in the cup. Tim Cahill’s injuries in the last two matches may limit his contribution but Harry Kewell is playing some of his best soccer.
Goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, will equal the record with 87 caps for Australia, and barring injury or suspension he will break the record in this cup.
Uzbekistan is one of five former Soviet republics to join the Asian confederation in 1994 and the only one to qualify for the Asian cup finals. (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are still in the AFC but Kazakhstan left to UEFA in 2002). The Uzbeks have appeared in the finals every time since then.
Uzbekistan have displayed a very beautiful brand of soccer relying on midfield possession and a gradual build up. Their offensive power (8 goals in 4 matches, tied with South Korea) is second only to Japan and they have several players who are capable of putting the ball in the net. But their defense is questionable. They have allowed 4 goals against weaker opposition than faced Australia.
Among the semifinalists, Uzbekistan has the most domestic based players; a fact most likely to change at the end of this tournament with so many European scouts on hand. Bunyodkor’s Djeparov and Pakhtakor’s Ahmedov are strong candidates to move.
These teams have never met before in the Asian cup. Australia will try to break the Uzbek’s possession game and that may lead to a difficult game to watch. Although Uzbekistan is capable of an upset, I see Australia again grinding out a win and going through.
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