By Michael Church
Jan 22 (Reuters) – Talking points from the week in Asian football:
QATAR MAINTAIN PERFECT START TO ASIAN CUP TITLE DEFENCE
Defending champions and tournaments hosts Qatar became the first nation to progress to the last 16 of the Asian Cup, where they have been joined by Australia, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Qatar’s 1-0 win over Tajikistan followed their opening 3-0 victory over Lebanon and guaranteed progress to the next round.
Australia beat Syria 1-0 to advance while Iran’s 1-0 victory over Hong Kong took them through. Saudi Arabia secured their berth with a 2-0 win over Kyrgyzstan.
Pre-tournament favourites Japan suffered a surprise 2-1 defeat by Iraq while South Korea needed a stoppage time own goal from Yazan Al Arab to claim a 2-2 draw with Jordan.
SOUTH KOREANS LOSE FIRST-CHOICE GOALKEEPER KIM
South Korea goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu has been ruled out for the remainder of the Asian Cup after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament during training.
Coach Juergen Klinsmann confirmed on Friday his first-choice goalkeeper will miss the rest of the tournament as the Koreans look to win the title for the first time in 64 years.
“We’re very sad about Seung-gyu’s injury but it’s part of sport, it happens in tournaments but we have to move on,” Klinsmann said.
“We keep him in our thoughts and we fight for him. What I told the team was that we are here and we have a mission, that is to stay till the end of the tournament.”
WELLINGTON STAY TOP IN AUSTRALIA AFTER LATE RUFER PENALTY
Wellington Phoenix held Melbourne Victory 1-1 on Friday as the New Zealand-based club maintained their slender lead in Australia despite playing the second period with 10 men after Tim Payne was sent off in first-half stoppage time.
Alex Rufer’s 95th minute penalty cancelled out Connor Chapman’s 78th minute opener to earn Wellington a share of the points.
“We knew going into halftime it was going to be a battle,” said Rufer. “We conceded a poor goal but … we knew we’d get a chance and (the penalty) was the chance. We took it and we’re really, really happy with the point.”
CHINESE SIDE DALIAN PRO CLOSES DUE TO ‘HISTORICAL DEBTS’
Chinese Super League club Dalian Pro announced on Wednesday their dissolution with immediate effect after failing to be granted a licence for the upcoming season.
The club, once coached by Rafa Benitez, finished 15th in the 16-team top flight last season to avoid relegation but will not participate in the new campaign.
“Despite the efforts of many parties, the club was unable to operate normally due to historical debts that could not be resolved and ultimately failed to pass the league admission for the 2024 season,” Dalian said in a statement.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Peter Rutherford)