AFC Asian Cup: VAR comes into play with semifinal berths at stake

The quarterfinal stage of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 will see eight teams battle it out for a spot in the semifinal, while Video Assistant Referee (VAR) also comes into play.

Title-favourite Iran will face China in the quarterfinal of the AFC Asian Cup 2019.   -  AFC

After a fiercely fought round-of-16, eight teams have advanced to the quarterfinal stage of the AFC Asian Cup 2019. Among them is three-time champion Iran, the title favourite. Carlos Queireoz's men have been in stupendous form, scoring nine goals and conceding none so far, and will be expected to go all the way.

Also in the fray is four-time winner Japan, two-time champion South Korea and reigning champion Australia. Making things even more interesting will be the introduction of Video Assistant Referee. (VAR) 

- Vietnam v Japan -

Japan should brush Vietnam aside but the four-time champion has been so unconvincing that a defeat would not be a major surprise.

Hajime Moriyasu's side has stumbled through the tournament, winning by a single-goal margin in each of its four games and conceding twice in its 3-2 Group F victory over Turkmenistan, ranked 127th in the world.

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The side allowed more than 75 percent possession to Saudi Arabia in a dire last-16 outing that was settled by Takehiro Tomiyasu's header from a corner against the run of play.

Meanwhile Vietnam, fresh from winning the Southeast Asian title last month, beat a well-organised Jordan side on penalties and could prove a handful for the stuttering Japanese.

- China v Iran -

The end looks nigh for Marcello Lippi's China as the side runs into the tournament's only consistently dangerous team.

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Iran is Asia's top-ranked side and is yet to concede at the tournament, rattling in nine goals in four matches as Team Melli moved confidently into the quarters. The only time it did not bag all three point was in its goalless Group D draw against arch rival Iraq.

Iran players celebrate their win against Oman.   -  Getty Images

 

It's the sort of form that has made Iran the team to avoid -- which is bad luck for China, an ageing team with injury problems and few options in attack.

In its favour, however, is the acumen of Lippi, who won the World Cup for Italy in 2006 and may have a few more cards to play before his expected departure post-tournament.

- South Korea v Qatar -

Son Heung-min's belated arrival gave South Korea a significant boost in its final group game, a 2-0 win over China, but needed extra time to beat Bahrain's 2-1 in the first knockout round.

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Injuries could prove critical for the Taeguk Warriors, who in recent days have lost Newcastle midfielder Ki Sung-yeung to a hamstring problem.

Qatari forward Almoez Ali leads the goal-scoring charts at the AFC Asian Cup 2019.   -  Twitter (@afcasiancup)

 

Meanwhile 2022 World Cup host Qatar has gone from strength to strength, upsetting political foes Saudi Arabia in the group phase thanks to a brace from the tournament's top scorer Almoez Ali -- who has seven goals to his name -- and knocking out Iraq in the 1-0 win that took the side to the quarters.

- UAE v Australia -

Despite only just squeezing past Uzbekistan on penalties, defending champion Australia is the heavy favourite to extinguish the hopes of Alberto Zaccheroni's lifeless UAE.

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The host, which is a world away from the dynamic football that lit up its appearance in the 2015 edition, has had some eccentric refereeing decisions to thank for keeping it in the tournament.

Australians celebrate their round-of-16 win against Uzbekistan.   -  Getty Images

 

With home fans staying away in droves, Australia has even less reason to fear the fixture in Al Ain, where the Socceroos have played three of their four games so far.

- VAR arrives -

The technology that shook up the World Cup in Russia will be used for the first time at an Asian Cup from the quarterfinals. Decisions on whether the ball crossed the goal line, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity can all be video-reviewed before the on-field referee makes the final decision.

The video assistant referee (VAR) will make its debut at the AFC Asian Cup in the first quarterfinal game against Vietnam and Japan.   -  Getty Images

 

It could have been a very different competition if VAR had been used all along: two late penalties for UAE, and two goals in Australia's win over Syria are among the incidents which may have faced scrutiny. It will bring an extra element of interest and, as defenders will be keenly aware, potentially more penalties.

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