Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Thu 26 July 2007

Asian Cup 2007 - Semi Final Review

Before we look at what happened in the Asian Cup 2007 semi-finals, let's fill you in on the outcome of the two remaining quarter-finals at the time of our previous report.

Iran v Korea Republic
A quarter-final between Iran and the Korean Republic is something that's come to be expected in the Asian Cup of late. Iran won this encounter 4-3 in China three years ago, but Korea were the victors by two goals to one in Lebanon in 2000 following a 6-2 win for Iran in the UAE four years before that.

This time around, a lively and exciting encounter took place at a largely-empty Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur. Both teams created chances in the first half which were largely denied by the on-form goalkeepers at either end. The second half had a more reserved feel and when the 90 minutes ended goalless, the half an hour of extra time followed a similar line too.

Neither team seemed prepared to gamble on finding a winning goal and so the second of three quarter-finals had to be decided on a penalty shoot-out. Though substitute goalkeeper Vahid Taleblou managed to save Korea's third penalty, Lee Woon-Jae stopped two for the opposing side, giving the Korean Republic a path through to the semi-finals 5-4 where they would play Iraq. More of which later...

Saudi Arabia v Uzbekistan
One of the most interesting pairings came in the last of the quarter-finals between the Saudis and Uzbekistan, and the former couldn't have wished for a better start. Yasser Al-Qahtani put Saudi Arabia 1-0 up after just three minutes when Uzbek 'keeper Ignatiy Nesterov could only parry a shot from Abdulrahman Al-Qahtani.

A couple of minutes later, Uzbekistan nearly equalised through Server Djeparov but his shot hit the post - an occurrance which would happen a further four times for his side during the match. Uzbekistan launched wave after wave of attack, dovetailing the Saudis who were giving as good as they got. Despite all the end-to-end action, the score remained 1-0 at the end of the first half.

The second half panned out in much the same way, but as time marched on Uzbekistan opened up more and more in their search for an equaliser. Somewhat predictably in the 75th minute, Ahmed Al-Mousa took advantage of the gaps that were appearing to make it 2-0 to Saudi Arabia.

Game over... or so they thought because with just nine minutes remaining, Uzbekistan finally found the net (albeit scrappily and from close range) when Pavel Solomin made it 2-1 to give the Saudis a nerve-wracking end to the game. Alexander Geynrikh hit the post two minutes later to really send the pulses racing, but it was not to be for Uzbekistan. Saudi Arabia had made it through to the semi-finals to play Japan in a replay of the 2000 Final which Japan won 1-0. Could they get their revenge this time?

Semi Finals
July 25th was crunch time for the four teams who were eyeing a place in the Final of the Asian Cup 2007. Iraq had never played in the Asian Cup Final, but to get there they would have to beat a South Korea team who had won the competition in its first two outings and appeared in the semi-finals in 1988 and 2000. Elsewhere, Japan would face Saudi Arabia. Betweem them they had won each of the last six Asian Cups, but only one would stand a chance of lifting the trophy this year...

Iraq v Korea Republic
A deluge of rain in Kuala Lumpur made for plenty of football of the far-from-pretty variety in the first semi final. Any attempts on goal that arrived were evenly shared between both sides but neither could put the ball in the net prior to half time. After the break, the Koreans nearly went ahead when Sabri had to clear the ball off the Iraqi goal line following a free-kick by Yeom Ki-Hun but after that the attacks from both sides proved just as impotent as those in the first half.

Through extra time, both teams offered more in the way of high and wide shooting which meant a penalty shoot-out was needed to settle the match. After six successful shots went in, Sabri saved a weak effort by Yeom Ki-Hun to give Iraq the advantage. Ahmed Mnajed then put Iraq 4-3 in front before Kim Jung-Woo’s final penalty for the Koreans hit the right post. It meant Iraq were through to their first ever Asian Cup Final while for the Korean Republic, their search for a first win since 1960 would go on.

Iraq face South Korea in a penalty shoot-out

Japan v Saudi Arabia
It was difficult to know who'd run out the winners of this match as both teams battled it out in a great contest. Saudi Arabia seemed to start the slowest of the two but when a free kick fell to Yasser Al-Qahtani in the 35th minute, Kawaguchi was helpless to stop the resulting shot in the Japanese goal. 1-0 to Saudi Arabia.

Their celebrations had barely subsided when two minutes later Yuji Nakazawa headed home an Endo corner to level the scores at 1-1. Shortly after, Nakamura almost scored from a free kick when Yasser Al-Musalim made a hash of collecting the ball, but the game remained level going into half time.

Malek Maaz made sure the second half got off to a bang as he headed in Ahmed Al-Bahari's precise cross after just two minutes, but Japan again came back quickly. With 53 minutes on the clock, Yuki Abe unleashed an excellent bicycle kick to level the scores at 2-2 but his time as hero was all too brief. Just four minutes later, Malek Maaz skipped past a dozing Abe and unleashed a fierce drive beyond Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi in the Japanese goal to put the Saudis back in front, 3-2.

Japan struggled to find another equaliser but substitute Naotake Hanyu came closest as his thunderous long-range effort crashed off the cross bar in the 75th minute. In the end, Japan's determination and competitive spirit went unrewarded as the game finished with victory for the Saudis who revenged defeats to the Japanese in the 1992 and 2000 finals.

Japan face Saudi Arabia in the second semi-final

So that's it - the Final in Jakarta on Sunday will be between Iraq and Saudi Arabia with the first course coming the day before in the form of a third/fourth place game between Japan and South Korea. Both matches are mouth-watering prospects and rest assured they'll be covered here at next week.

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