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Holder Australia falls to shock Jordan loss

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AL AIN — Australia made the worst possible start to the defense of their Asian Cup crown on Sunday as Graham Arnold’s Socceroos were handed a 1-0 defeat by unfancied Jordan.

The Australians, who won the title on home soil four years ago, dominated for long spells but were unable to find a way to cancel out Anas Bani Yaseen’s 26th minute header in the Group B clash at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

“It was one of those days,” Arnold said.

“A frustrating day and the ball didn’t seem to bounce. But you’ve got to give full credit to Jordan and they’ve shown that they had a lot of fight.”

The Jordanians lead group B after the opening round of fixtures after a 0-0 draw in the later game between Syria and Palestine, with the Palestinians holding on for a point despite Mohammed Saleh’s 69th minute sending off.

Vital Borkelmans’ Jordan were resolute in defense against an Australia side that struggled to turn their domination into chances. The Socceroos went into halftime trailing by a goal and were fortunate not to be further behind.

Bani Yaseen put his side in front when he was given the time and space to head Baha Abdelrahman’s corner home unchallenged, powering the ball beyond the flat-footed Maty Ryan.

Four minutes later Abdelrahman almost added a second when his freekick from the edge of the area speared towards goal, only for Ryan to push the ball onto the woodwork before it was cleared.

For all their possession, Australia crafted few clear-cut opportunities, with Awer Mabil’s shot coming back of goalkeeper Amer Shafi’s legs and Jamie MacLaren heading high over the bar.

Mabil hit the woodwork late in the second half as Australia grew increasingly desperate to find an equalizer and Shafi was kept busy until the final kick of the game. However, Jordan held on for a famous victory.

Also notching up an historic win were Stephen Constantine’s India side, who handed Thailand a surprise 4-1 thrashing with veteran striker Sunil Chhetri claiming a brace as he led his country to their first victory at the tournament in 55 years.

Chhetri put the Indians in front from the penalty spot before Teerasil Dangda equalized, only for the 34-year-old to restore his team’s lead with a fine finish early in the second half.

Anirudh Thapa and Jeje Lalpekhlua added to the scoreline as India won for the first time at the Asian Cup since defeating Hong Kong in 1964. It put India top of the early standings in group A ahead of hosts the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, who drew 1-1 on Saturday evening.

THAILAND FIRE COACH
Thailand have sacked head coach Milovan Rajevac following their 4-1 defeat by India in their opening game of the Asian Cup, the country’s football association (FAT) said yesterday.

Serbian Rajevac, who was appointed in April 2017, was already under pressure going into the tournament after Thailand failed to defend their ASEAN Football Federation Championship title in December.

“I hereby announce the suspension of Milovan Rajevac’s contract as coach of Thailand’s national team,” FAT President Somyot Poompanmoung said in a statement.

Rajevac’s assistant, Sirisak Yodyardthai, has been put in interim charge of Thailand, who are bottom of Group A and play Bahrain on Thursday.

CONSTANTINE TELLS INDIA TO STAY GROUNDED AFTER THAI HIGH
AL AIN — India made a storming start to their Asian Cup campaign with a 4-1 thumping of Thailand in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, but coach Stephen Constantine has urged his team to temper celebrations and focus on qualifying for the knockout stages.

Constantine’s men marked their return to the continental showpiece event after an eight-year hiatus with a brilliant second half display to secure a surprise triumph against the more-fancied War Elephants to move top of Group A.

“We try to win every match that we play in,” the English coach told reporters after India, who were fortunate to go into the break locked at 1-1, registered a first victory at the tournament in 55 years.

“We still have two games left and we still need another two points to qualify from the group stages. After we have qualified, we can get a little bit excited, but our primary job is still to qualify out of the group stages.”

Constantine attributed his team’s slow start to “nervousness” and took heart from their second half display when they scored three times without reply to add to a contentious first-half penalty.

“It was important to not concede a goal in those minutes and that is what we did,” the 56-year-old, currently in his second stint with India, added.

Talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri, who scored twice, was already looking ahead to Thursday’s match against hosts United Arab Emirates. — Reuters