Fearless (Sort Of) Visits the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia (And Assesses the Damage)

Beware Gillon, Beware AFL, Beware NRL, Beware NRU…the sleeping giant known to many as soccer has awoken. Suddenly a sport that occupied a spot on the periphery of society has now assumed centre stage.

To coincide with the 10th anniversary of the A-League, the Football Federation of Australia’s other mainstream-centralising manoeuvre, the rights to host the 2015 Asian Cup had come to fruition. The ambitious failure to secure hosting rights for the World Cup cost the FFA many friends and $50-odd million to boot. Hosting the Asian Cup, on the other hand, was a chance to help the game within Asia and open many doors for Australians and commerce within the region and at a much more realistic financial outlay too…

Suddenly the A-League’s Western Sydney Wanderers successes made sense. 20,000+ members in their first year was a boon for the game and for the region that had been primarily been known for its rugby league orientations. There was an Asian Club Championship to boot too.

Suddenly, the AFL’s urgency to land in Western Sydney made sense, too. The Greater Western Sydney Giants were borne to combat other codes before it was too far gone. The public outrage of Tasmania not getting a team was drowned out in the charcoal and mango rantings of the AFL’s greatest spruiker and martian Kevin Sheedy. The Giants ambitiously stockpiled young talent, ready to take on the AFL’s finest. Maybe, just maybe, more than a decade ago the NRL saw the writing on the wall when Western Suburbs Magpies merged with the Balmain Tigers to become the Wests Tigers.

One month on from Australia winning the Asian Cup on home soil, the future looks bright for soccer. The smartest move the A-League ever pulled was to reinvent itself as a summer sport. Gaps were prevalent in domestic and international crowds and fixturing for cricket and basketball was still trying to re-establish its footing as a major national sport. Enter the A-league and the landscape over summer has changed forever and for most everyone wins. Television traditionally slumbers in the warmer months, relying on repeats and testing new shows. Now sport could dominate more frequently with cricket bringing on the Big Bash League and even basketball getting similar television coverage dating back to its peak of the mid 90s.

On the home front too, Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou had succesfully regenerated its playing list. Names such as Cahill, Bresciano, Jedinak and Milligan became the veterans as Neill, Carney, Holman, Schwarzer, Thompson, and Kennedy had been relegated to yesterday’s heroes. Nothwithstanding their fine efforts collectively over the last decade, emerging stars such as Luongo, Spiranovic, Sainsbury, Troisi, Oar and Kruse were now the heroes to the many soccer stars of the future.

Four games at the Asian Cup that didn’t feature Australia were sellouts. Ratings for Australia versus China in the Quarter Finals were massive. Who’d have thought that Iran’s Flock of Seagulls could play Iraq in Canberra? Who’d have thought that the Iranians would lose 7-6 on a penalty shootout? They were the highest ranked team after all. As for the Japanese Tripitakas…the most expensive team in the Asian Cup, a shock loss to the United Arab Emirates, 5-4 on a penalty shootout. So much for being born from an egg on the mountaintop! Even appearances from the Kims of North Korea and the Palestinians playing their first Asian Cup were highlights.

Spare a thought though for the Not-Kims of South Korea. To be defined as valiant in defeat probably doesn’t do them justice. From being pelted by the crowd after a poor showing at the 2014 World Cup, the South Koreans went agonisingly within an ace of breaking their 55 year-old trophy drought and were, for many, the best team of the Asian Cup. A nice rivalry builds with the Socceroos, another frontier approached and barriers being overcome through soccer. According to my eyes and ears at the final, it was one of the best sporting contests to have been staged on Aussie soil.

Football to many, soccer to others, the world game to all…here it comes…

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