[ASIAN CUP] As the the lone national team competition of the winter and the first competition hosted by Qatar since it was awarded the 2022 World Cup, the 2011 Asian Cup has been in the international spotlight. As it moves into the quarterfinals on Friday and Saturday, here's a look at the winners and losers so far ...
Iran was the only team to win all three group games, including a 2-1 win over neighbor Iraq that sent it through to the semifinals. Iran's first-place finish in Group D set up a date with South Korea in the most-anticipated of the four quarterfinal matches, a must-win game, according to Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi. He spent the early part of his career working in California but then spent seven years in South Korea as an assistant in the national team program. "I am expecting a wonderful match and I hope the world too are ready for one of the most exciting matches in Asian soccer," Ghotbi said. "A lot of times coaches are facing a team from their country of birth while we are seeing many, many times where a coach like myself comes up against a team where they worked with."
Frenchman Bruno Metsu is much like Bora Milutinovic or Gus Hiddink, a mercenary with a reputation for leading national teams to new heights. After Qatar's 2-0 loss in its opening against Uzbekistan, things looked bleak for the host country, but Metsu didn't panic and Qatar responded with wins over China (2-0) and Kuwait (3-0) to match its best performance ever by reaching the quarterfinals.
Like in its only previous appearance at the Asian Cup in 2004, Jordan has reached the quarterfinals, going unbeaten with wins over Saudi Arabia and Syria and a tie with favored Japan in its opening game.
Mark Schwarzer has been the best goalkeeper at the Asian Cup, helping the Socceroos win Group C ahead of South Korea and avoid Iran in the quarterfinals. They will instead face defending champion Iraq in the quarterfinals, where they will be the favorite. A victory is essential for Australia, which fell in the quarterfinals four years ago in its first appearance at the Asian championships.
Attendance has been poor at the Asian Cup. If you throw out the crowds for the three Qatar games, the tournament has averaged only 8,161 fans a game. It should be noted, though, that unlike the Gold Cup, Copa America and African Cup of Nations, the Asian Cup does not play doubleheaders.
Saudi Arabia lost all three games, resulting in the firing of not one, but two coaches, first Jose Peseiro. after the opening game, then Nasser Al Johar (coaching the national team for the fifth time) after the third game. Also fired was Prince Sultan Bin Fahd, the president of the Saudi Football Federation.
North Korea was the only one of the four 2010 World Cup finalists to go out in the first round. In fact, it didn't score a goal in three games. North Korea coach Jo Tong Sop was surprisingly upbeat afterward -- his predecessor, Kim Jong Hun, was accused of treason after North Korea exited the 2010 World Cup against much more difficult competition -- telling reporters his team had a "good experience" during its first appearance at the Asian competition since 1992.
Making its first appearance in 27 years, India exited quickly, losing all three games and conceding a tournament-high 13 goals. Interest in soccer is picking up in India -- the All India Football Federation recently signed a $140 million marketing deal covering 15 years -- so the poor showing was a disappointment.