As German football lay in slumber over Christmas and into January, most players from the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga were catching up on some well earned rest and indulgence. For the best of Germany’s Asian crop, though, it was off to Australia to compete in the Asian Cup.
No fewer than 13 Germany-based players were selected to represent their home country in the tournament, the most out of any nation outside the Asian Football Confederation.
The beginning of the knockout rounds started late last week, and the quarter-finals provided a perfect opportunity for the star names to rise above the rest and stamp their authority on the tournament. Inevitably, however, while some excelled others stumbled.
South Korean and Bayer Leverkusen sensation Heung-min Son has been a standout and shook off fitness concerns to bag a brace in his country’s knockout tie with Uzbekistan. With the match stretching into extra time – it was amazingly the first match of the tournament level after 90 minutes – Son grabbed his first with an instinctive low header of Hoffenheim left back Kim Jin-Su’s cross to break the deadlock.
The second was an emphatic finish into the roof of the net after an assist from former Bundesliga player Cha Du-Ri, sending the Taeguk Warriors into a semi-final clash with Iraq.
Elsewhere in the Korean ranks, Park Joo-ho (Mainz) has been ever-present at the base of the midfield, but club teammate Koo Ja-cheol was unfortunately sent home due to injury injury following the group stage.
While Son is currently the darling of South Korean football, Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa leaves as an unfortunate soul after missing a decisive penalty in Japan’s shock quarter-final loss to the United Arab Emirates.
Samurai Blue, which had won three, scored eight, and conceded zero in the group matches, were on top for most of the match but were unable to completely recover from an early Ali Mabkhout opener. They managed an equaliser late in normal time, before Kagawa spurned a glorious opportunity to seal victory in the dying seconds of normal time with the goal gaping.
The diminutive playmaker, who had scored one and provided three assists in the group stages, hit the post in the penalty shootout, allowing Ismail Ahmed to seal an unlikely victory for UAE.
Kagawa, along with Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Makote Hasebe, Takashi Inui (both Eintracht Frankfurt), and Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart) had started every single one of Japan’s Asian Cup matches.
Okazaki, who scored just one goal in four games, and Inui were particularly disappointing in the loss, while Hasebe and Sakai were two of Samurai Blue’s most consistent performers throughout the tournament.
Coach Javier Aguirre’s reluctance to rotate his squad ultimately led to Japan’s downfall, with the players visibly flat in the quarter-final. The early departure signals the second international failure in just six months following a deflating World Cup campaign.
The loss also handed the favourites tag over to hosts Australia, who overcame China 2-0 in their quarter-final clash despite a shaky start.
Bayer Leverkusen’s Robbie Kruse is doing no harm to his chances of gaining a starting role in his Bundesliga club, regularly terrorising opposing defences. With one goal to his name, Kruse, along with Ingolstadt’s Mathew Leckie, has started three of the Socceroos’ four matches.
Goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak, despite usurping Borussia Dortmund teammate Roman Weidenfeller before the winter break, has had to make do with a spot on the bench behind Liverpool target Mat Ryan.
The Socceroos will play UAE in the second semi-final on January 27, with the final to be played on January 31. If all goes to plan, the Bundesliga could see Leverkusen teammates and good friends Kruse and Son come up against each other in the quest for Asian domination.
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