Today saw the opening match of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, the hosts Qatar were up against Uzbekistan. Let’s just say it didn’t go according to plan for the hosts on their big day.

After an uninspired first half it was up to defender Odil Akhmedov to start the tournament off with a BANG! Stepping up from back, 30 yards from goal Ahmedov tried his luck and fired a wonderful goal past the flailing Qasem Burhan in the Qatar net.

The home crowd inside the Khalifa International Stadium groaned when the home side went 2-0 down. A poor backpass from left-back Ibrahim Majed put 2008 Asian Football of the Year Server Djeparov in on goal and all he had to do was sidefoot the ball past Burhan and the Uzbeki’s had the 2-0 victory which puts then in pole position to qualify from Group A.

Qatar coach Bruno Metsu came out with an honest account of his teams performance:

“Today is a very bad start for our team,” he said.

“We wanted to play well for the people, for everybody but we played a very bad game today. I’m sorry for the fans, for everybody but sometimes it is very difficult to play well right from the start of a tournament, particularly with pressure on the players.

“I hope that the team will improve and I think it is very possible because today there were many mistakes and the players need to give something more for the next game.”

On the opposite side Uzbekistan’s coach Vadim Abramov seemed very confident of his teams performance:

“I’m very sorry for Qatar people because this was a big celebration for them,” he said.

“They (the players) played great today but this is not our maximum, I still think that we can play much better.

“We got the three points today and we are happy now but we should not relax for the next match. We will enjoy this now but tomorrow we will look to the next match.

“The fact that we beat Qatar today will help us for the next game.”

Tomorrow Kuwait will take on China in the Al Gharafa Stadium a win for either team will give them a great chance to progress.

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Even though the wonderful guys over at twofootedtackle whipped up a fantastic Asian Cup preview this morning, plans were already afoot for gibfootballshow to provide our own, so here it is.

This Friday night the eyes of the World will turn to Qatar as they host the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. With people tuning in not just to see the best of Asian talent but to see how Qatar cope hosting an event half the size of FIFA’s grand showpiece.

Sixteen teams will compete for the fifteenth Asian Cup. With the inclusion of six past champions (Israel being the only one not there of course.) there is a mixture of the better known teams Japan, Korea Republic, Australia and the lesser known Jordan, Syria and Bahrain.

Pressure you feel on the home nation to prove they are worthy of a World Cup spot albeit for a tournament in 11 years time. Korea DPR will look to improve on there impressive showing in South Africa with this their 3rd appearance in the tournament. Iraq and Saudi Arabia will hope to have an impressive tournament after both reached the final last time but failed to appear in South Africa last year.

With all the claims the Qatari bid made with their World Cup stadia plans people will be disappointed to hear that only two stadiums planned for the event in 2022 will be used in the competition. The 50,000 seater Khalifa International Stadium in Doha will host the opening game between Qatar and Uzbekistan and the final on January the 29th.

The Al-Gharafa Stadium also in Doha is the other World Cup stadium being used of course the plans are to increase it to 44,000 from it’s current 22,000 seats. Out of the other three stadiums only one can be found outside Doha.

Al-Rayyan’s Ahmed bin Ali Stadium will host all of Saudi Arabia and Iraq’s fixtures and organisers will hope to fill the 25,000 seats for each game and really ramp up the atmosphere of the tournament.

Back in 2007 the tournament was held in July with co-hosts Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. This year’s cup was moved to January to cope with the increased heat in the Middle East it is still expected to be around 25 degrees when the games start on Friday.

Younis Mahmoud’s 72nd minute goal was enough to see Iraq overcome Saudi Arabia 1-0 to lift the 2007 Asian Cup and complete a fairytale story for the war-torn nation. Reaching the final they beat Australia, Vietnam and the Korea Republic, although they only scored seven goals they played some great football and deserved the victory.

Saudi Arabia would have been disappointed with their finish to the tournament, top scorers with twelve goals and wins over the Korea Republic and Japan they would have felt like favourites for the cup but Mahmoud’s seventh goal was enough to cause the upset.

Looking at the four groups there are some mouth-watering encounters. Qatar have a great chance of reaching the Quarter-Finals and so will their opponents, Kuwait, China and Uzbekistan will all fancy their chances of getting out of Group A.

Group B sees favourites Japan and Saudi Arabia lock horns and surely Syria and Jordan will need a miracle to advance, however in a three game group there are no certainties for qualification.

In Group C Australia will fancy their chances of reaching the last eight, a tough test against the Korea Republic sandwiched by games against India and Bahrain. The last group is surely the “Group of Death” Iraq, Iran, Korea DPR and the United Arab Emirates will be a scene out of a George Bush tea party. All four teams from Group D will be eager to advance.

According to a popular betting site it’s no surprise to see Japan, Australia and South Korea as outright favourites to lift the trophy. Holders Iraq are deemed as a long shot to regain their title at 21/1. Most people will look to the big three for the winner come the end of January however it’s worth watching Korea DPR and the Saudis.

For people with access to TV channel Eurosport will be happy to know they will be broadcasting the tournament from this Friday.

Stay tuned tomorrow for ten players to watch for in the tournament.

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