Asian Cup – Iraq 0 Japan 1: Blue Samurai scrape home against Iraq in humid Brisbane


by Roy Hay

I started my university teaching career at the University of East Anglia in Norwich in 1967 and in the very first tutorial a student asked me if I knew Michael Heaney. Michael and I had been at primary school together in the West of Scotland so the connection was quickly made. The student, Angela Porter from Sunderland later married Jim Cassels, a Scots lad from north Ayrshire, and we have been friends ever since. So when they made their annual visit to their daughter and her husband and grand-children on the Gold Coast, it seemed like a good idea to meet in Brisbane where there just happened to be a couple of football matches taking place. Well, you come up with a better excuse, if you can!

Swapping a cool Melbourne summer for Queensland was no strain either, though by the end of this evening I was gasping for water to stave off dehydration and that was only watching Iraq go down by a single goal to a lethargic Japan in one of the least exciting matches in this Asian Cup. I missed the 5–1 demolition of Palestine by Jordan in Melbourne as a result.

The day in Brisbane had its compensations. Our hotel was on the banks of the river between the airport and the city, and so we set off in the morning by City Cat to the cultural centre, where we strolled through the South Bank gardens, through a Nepalese pagoda erected as part of the Expo 1988 celebrations. On the other side we found Georgia from Norfolk Island on her first day as a barista in a Combi van, the Lost Bean, who revived us with some superb coffee. She traces her ancestry back to the lads from the Bounty who rocked up on Norfolk Island with their Tahitian women after setting Captain Bligh adrift.

Jim, Angela and Frances, my wife, went off to the Art Gallery while I headed for the State Library to pursue some research on football in Queensland. Despite the help of an Irish librarian I was unable to download my findings because of a glitch in their system, but at least I have the references, some of which I was able to pass on to my co-authors of an article on the women’s game in Australia which is about to appear in the International Journal of the History of Sport.

After lunch it was back to the hotel by Buz to recharge our batteries for the game in the evening. Brisbane does not have buses, it has Buzs and Gliders, I kid you not. They are fast and clean and numerous, though the drivers seem to be under huge pressure to maintain schedules. A couple of them were very rude to Asian passengers who were dilatory or wanted to board at an unscheduled stop. I am not sure this is the best way to welcome people to public transport.

In the evening we were back on the Buzs to town where we had to track down the ones that we were told would take us to Lang Park, Suncorp Stadium, now just the Brisbane Stadium for the duration of the Asian Cup. Even though we had a map of the centre of town we had to ask the natives for directions and one lass explained where we should go. We found our way to the Roma Street area, but it took another round of questions of locals, police, transport staff and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all before we pinned down the spot. That gave us time to find a pub for a glass and a meal, the latter being ordered from a lass from Largs in Ayrshire and cooked by the one who had given us the initial town centre directions—we should just have followed her to work in the first place!

When we got to the ground we had to walk all the way round the stadium to the entry but we joined the crowd of 22,941 who included a high proportion of supporters of the Blue Samurai and a fair sprinkling of Iraqis. Iraq has done wonders in the Asian Cup, winning the tournament in 2007, and reaching the quarter-finals in 2011 where the Socceroos won by a single goal from Harry Kewell in extra time.

This time they struggled to impose themselves on the game in the early stages and conceded a penalty in the 22nd minute when Keisuke Honda was brought down in the box. He picked himself up to score and later hit the frame of the goal twice, but despite numerous chances Japan did not add to its score. Even its fans with their ‘Here we go, here we go’ chant, which normally grows in volume and passion as the game goes on, was strangely listless as if the heat and humidity had got to them too.

The Iraqis, who still have to play all their games away from home, had a good spell just after the interval but really hardly threatened after that. They are probably saving something for the final group game against Palestine, which should ensure their qualification in second spot. Japan should be too good for Jordan, despite the latter’s goal feast tonight.

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