Thursday 25 February 2016, 07:08

Shocks galore as Iran reclaim Asian crown

The 2016 AFC Futsal Championship culminated in yet another victory for Iran, who beat host nation Uzbekistan in the final. Yet while the winners were not unexpected, this was a tournament full of upsets, typified by the disappointing performance of defending champions Japan, who lost in the quarter-finals and failed to secure a place at the FIFA Futsal World Cup for the first time since 2000.

While the Iranians, Thailand and Australia celebrated their return to the Futsal World Cup, which is scheduled to be held in Colombia in September/October, Uzbekistan and Vietnam rejoiced at their first-ever qualification for the prestigious competition. rounds up all the action from this year’s AFC Futsal Championship.

Return to form Iran have dominated the Asian futsal scene since the inaugural continental contest was staged in Malaysia in 1999, clinching top-three finishes at all 14 of the tournaments that have been held to date. Indeed, the Iranians have emerged victorious a staggering ten times, while finishing second once and third three times; they have consequently participated in more World Cups than any other country.

At Uzbekistan 2016, Team Melli got off to a typically strong start, comfortably winning all three of their Group B matches. They subsequently thrashed Kirghizstan 7-0 in the quarter-finals and Vietnam 13-1 in the semis, prior to coming from behind to defeat the hosts 2-1 in a closely contested final.

While Iran will be making their seventh appearance at the Futsal World Cup, debutants Uzbekistan will be hoping to build on their excellent continental displays, which enthralled local fans throughout the competition. Goalkeeper Umarov Rustam was in particularly eye-catching form, keeping a clean sheet in a quarter-final triumph over Iraq and making a decisive save in a penalty shoot-out with Thailand in the last four to qualify his team for the final.

Vietnam impress Given that Iran and Uzbekistan had already faced off in the 2010 final, the teams’ presence in this year’s title decider cannot be regarded as a huge surprise. Similarly, third-placed Thailand have several semi-final appearances under their belt and can now look forward to travelling to the World Cup for the fifth time. Japan’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, however, was a significant shock.

It was all the more surprising as the Japanese had started so well, seeing off Australia, Qatar and Malaysia in the group phase. But Miguel Rodrigo’s players were caught cold in their quarter-final clash with Vietnam, who were playing in just their fourth AFC Futsal Championship.

Five minutes before the end of normal time, Japan led 3-1, but two goals in quick succession took the game into extra time. After a goal for each side led to a penalty shoot-out, the Vietnamese held their nerve to prevail 2-1 and reach the semi-finals – and the Futsal World Cup, by extension – for the first time.

The Samurai Blue still had a chance to save face by qualifying for Colombia 2016 via a play-off, but they proceeded to lose to Kyrgyzstan. Australia then got the better of Kirghizstan, thereby finishing fifth and qualifying for their seventh Futsal World Cup.

Japan were not alone in underperforming - for the first time in ten years, Lebanon failed to advance to the knockout stages.

Sensational scoring A number of experienced players showcased their skills in Uzbekistan, including top scorer Suphawut Thueanklang, who found the back of the net for Thailand no fewer than 14 times, and who previously notched three goals at the 2012 Futsal World Cup. Iran’s Hossein Tayyebi finished second in the scoring charts with 11.

The guile of Kaoru Morioka, who struck four times in Tashkent, proved insufficient in the end for Japan, whose hopes were dealt a hammer blow by a brace from 24-year-old Vietnamese star Tran Van Vu. He is among many exciting Asian stars who will be hoping to come to the fore once again at Colombia 2016.

The stat 4 – The number of goals conceded in six matches by Iran, whose triumph was built on defensive solidity. At the other end, they were nothing short of prolific, netting 48 goals, 20 more than Thailand, the tournament’s second-highest scoring team. A large portion (25) of those goals was scored by the dynamic trio of Tayyebi, Mahdi Javid and Asghar Hassanzadeh.

What they said

Congratulations Vietnam and my "brother" Bruno on reaching the 2016 World Cup! You and Vietnam futsal deserve it.

— Miguel Rodrigo (@miguelrodrigocs) February 17, 2016

Final ranking 1- Iran 2- Uzbekistan 3- Thailand 4- Vietnam 5- Australia * 6- Kyrgyzstan 7- Japan 8- Iraq 9- Qatar 10- China 11- Lebanon 12- Chinese Taipei 13- Saudi Arabia 14- Tajikistan 15- Jordan 16- Malaysia

  • qualified for Colombia 2016