The FIFA international game window that shut on Wednesday (October 17) saw a host of nations in action. Though it was the heavyweights of world football who went on to grab most of the headlines for good — England’s stunning win over Spain and France adding to Germany’s woes֫ — as well as bad reasons — Uruguay suffering humiliating losses to South Korea and Japan — the Asians too were busy in their tune-up to the much-awaited AFC Asian Cup 2019.
The continental flagship competition that kicks-off in UAE on January 5 next will see 24 nations competing for the ultimate glory for the first time. And it was no surprise that all the nations were in action as they look to make the most of the available international fixtures to be in the best possible shape ahead of the Asian Cup.
While India, who have qualified for the competition after missing out in 2015, travelled to play out a goalless draw against China, a result that was lauded by many in the country, their opponents in the group stages of the Asian Cup had a patchy run.
The Indians are grouped alongside hosts UAE, Bahrain and Thailand in Group A and it was no surprise that all the three sides were in action over the week.
Emirati in Spain
UAE chose to travel to Spain for their ‘home’ friendlies against Honduras (ranked 62) and Venezuela (ranked 32). And their performance was anything but inspiring.
The Alberto Zaccheroni-coached unit had a difficult time negotiating their opponents and had to rely on some smart football from their talisman Mohamed Abdulrahman to rally and eke out a draw. Romell Quioto gave Honduras the lead in the 18th minute while Abdulrahman, who joined Al Hilal in the Saudi Pro League after playing for Al Ain FC for over 10 years, brought the Emirati back into the tie with a goal from close range.
Meanwhile, in their second friendly, UAE had nothing going their way as Venezuela recorded a 2-0 win at the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Stadium in Barcelona. The two games saw Zaccheroni play forward Ismail Matar after the veteran striker was forced out of the side for over a year.
Thailand build on
Thailand has been one of the most improved national sides in the AFC over the past few years. Having made it to the final round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the Thai are determined to make their return to the Asian Cup after 11 years count. And gauging by what we have seen so far of the side, India’s biggest challenge could come from them and not the other West Asian sides in Group A.
The War Elephants were in fine form winning their two friendly games this month. They beat Hong Kong (ranked 143) 1-0 and recorded a win over Trinidad and Tobago (ranked 90th) by a similar margin two days later. The Trinidad and Tobago game also saw the veteran Thai goalkeeper Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool play his last game for the national team, calling it quits after 14 years of service.
Thailand will be engaged in the AFF (ASEAN) Championships next month, which will see them line-up against sides like the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia.
Bahrain find relief
A team that’s finding it difficult to get their act together ahead of the Asian Cup, Bahrain heaved a sigh of relief with a 4-1 win over Myanmar on Tuesday (October 18). For a team that won just five of their 17 games in the last two years, the win over Myanmar (ranked 138) was a much-needed morale booster as they continue their preparations for the Asian Cup. This win, however, came after a 0-1 loss to Syria last Thursday (October 11).
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