The Asian Cup and Australia’s Future

 

by Roy Hay

When Jock Stein of Celtic, the first British manager to take a team to win what was then the European Cup (now the European Champions League) in Lisbon against the mighty Inter Milan in 1967, fought his way into the dressing room, he was met by the legendary Bill Shankly of Liverpool. Shankly said simply, “John, you are immortal.” I now get to use these words of Ange Postecoglou.

Now strictly Ange is the coach of the winner of our third or fourth Asian international trophy at national level. Australia won the Independence Day tournament in Vietnam in 1967 in the middle of the war. We also won the Merlion Cup in Singapore. But these were regional trophies. The Matildas triumphed in the Asian Cup of Nations in 2010. Once again our women led the way, but this is the first Asia-wide male competition and it can only be equaled, never exceeded.

Until we win the World Cup, that is.

So that, as Johnny Warren exhorted us all, is the next goal. Not taking part in the World Cup, but actually aiming to win it. Ange has the ambition for his fellow countrymen to do so and will never go to make up the numbers. He is a romantic at heart, but hard-headed on what is required to overturn conventional wisdom in the service – not just of Australia – but of the whole Asian Confederation.

This is why the most short-sighted thing I have heard recently is the suggestion that some of the West Asian members of the AFC want Australia expelled for monopolising Asian trophies and a place at the top table—the World Cup. Nothing would do more for Asian football than a win for Australia, China, South Korea or Japan and these four countries, plus Iran, Iraq and even the United Arab Emirates can push each other toward such a goal. We have a long way to go, but last night’s triumph is not the end, it is just the beginning.

So while the rest of us can bask in the triumph of the Socceroos in Sydney, the national coach has already consigned that result to the fish and chip wrappers and is focusing on the World Cup qualifiers for Russia in 2018. He is beginning to build the nucleus of the team which will play in the qualifying matches.

That is why Terry Antonis of Sydney FC, who did not kick a ball in a match in the competition just finished, will have had the most important experience of all. He will have been exposed to what it takes to win a major international senior competition and by taking part in the training and preparation have realised what is necessary to gain a playing spot.

Tomi Juric of Western Sydney Wanderers did play, coming on as substitute and making a critical contribution in the final and he will be the better for that. Many others would have contented themselves by going down and winning a free kick, but he got up, got past his man and set up the crucial goal. That moment was a metaphor for Australia’s performance throughout, and helps explain why they won the fair play trophy as well as the Cup itself.

So where do we stand as Asian champions embarking on the next round in World Cup qualifiers?

Mat Ryan enhanced his European reputation in goal, and we have first class back-up in Mitch Langerak and the experience of Eugene Galekovic. Across the back-line, Ivan Franjic, Trent Sainsbury—the player of the final—Matthew Spiranovic, and Jason Davidson can give us a degree of solidity for years to come. Spiranovic has to curb his tendency to get booked for infringements. Sometimes he takes one for the team, but a player with his ability needs to avoid missing games through suspension. Aziz Behich will keep Davidson honest and Ben Garuccio of Melbourne City (if he can get himself free of injury) and Alex Gersbach of Sydney FC are two of the most promising full backs of the next generation. Nick Ansell at Melbourne Victory is another whose card has been marked. He is comfortable on the ball but has been playing in a porous defence this season.

Massimo Luongo was the find of the tournament. He already had a place, but he has come so far, so fast, that he convinced the hard-headed judges he was the most effective player in the whole Asian Cup. Mark Milligan and Mile Jedinak have another campaign in them in central midfield, while Aaron Mooy and Mitch Nichols should get a chance at some stage along with Antonis and Luongo.

Up front, the irrepressible Tim Cahill will continue to put his hand up as long as his battered body holds out. His special blend of skills is irreplaceable, but he will probably be able to do the job for us in the qualifiers along with Matthew Leckie and Tomi Juric, but it looks like we will miss the unlucky Robbie Kruse, whose achilles injury was virtually the only downside for the Australians.

One word about our South Korean opponents in the final: They gave us a lesson in how to take an excruciating defeat. Dignified, distraught but able to behave as sportsmen who had given their all though it was not quite enough. The rivalry between the two countries will continue and both will be better for it.

 

Symbolising the Asian Cup. While the Korean fans had their ‘end’ and their banner, the fans of both teams were mixed throughout the stadium. Photo: Roy Hay.

Symbolising the Asian Cup. While the Korean fans had their ‘end’ and their banner, the fans of both teams were mixed throughout the stadium. Photo: Roy Hay.

 

 

Comments

  1. Amen, Brother Hay.
    As an aside – did I miss something with Nathan Burns. He seems to have been used a lot as a sub earlier in the tournament, and did well, but not in the knock out stage. Is he a level below Juric, or did he have a problem? Could he take Kruse’s place?
    Also Matthew Leckie – at the World Cup I thought he was going to be the next big thing. He is a hard runner, but his touch and skill seemed to let him down in this tournament. I am I being fair? Where to for him?

  2. Thanks, Peter. I am ambivalent about Nathan Burns. He has a nose for goals and if one of them had gone in against Kuwait in the opener he might have forced his way into contention thereafter. But against Korea in the group game he suffered from the slow Australian build up. I think if he keeps scoring in the second half of the A-League season Ange will use him in the squad for the qualifiers. But he is not the long term future. I wonder about the lad Melling who scored for City this evening. He reminds me a bit of Danny Allsopp. Probably not quite there yet.
    Leckie I think is integral to this team since he frightens defenders with his pace and commitment. OK goals would be great but in this tournament he was such a great foil for the complementary skills of Kruse and Cahill. His touch needs to improve, but he knows that.

  3. Gregor Lewis says

    Bookmarked this piece for the archives labelled ‘Goto Rereads’.
    Roy, you had my head nodding up and down with the fluid frequency of a freshly oiled gimbal.
    Disagree slightly about Burns though. I think he must be intrinsic part of our attack all the way through to 2018.
    He can support Juric and benefit from Leckie’s improved control and the clever spatial awareness of a rehabilitated Kruse and our forgotten man – Rogic.

    With respect to our future ambitions, there’s no time like the present to say, ‘To Infinity & Beyond!’

    Oooooh! I can’t stoo buzzin’ after reading your piece Roy.

  4. David Zampatti says

    Oh, come on now. We win a tournament, on home soil, by beating the 69th ranked country in the world (the highest in the comp coming in at only 51). We’re the 100th ranked country in the world, our national soccer league is ranked 99th among the world’s comps, but still the dam on the great river of bullshit breaks.
    I heard a radio commentator claim that this was one of the five greatest moments in Australian sport. Jesus wept. And now they’ve got their sights set on the World Cup. WINNING the World Cup. Give me a break.
    I tell you what. When this cold-blooded lizard of a sport stops playing with itself and crawls off the rock of summer to play with the other animals in the football season, then let’s see what happens to the “soccer boom”.
    You don’ get respect by hyperbole and manufactured triumphs, vainglory and hubris. And so far that’s pretty much all Australian soccer has offered up.

  5. That is one way of looking at what has happened so far, David. Here is another. No one from the coach down thinks this is the end of the road, but just a significant first step along it. When you are up against teams representing more than half the world’s population you should be allowed a moment of congratulation when a victory is achieved. When we played in the recent World Cup in Brazil, with a team which was clearly in transition, we were not disgraced in losing to the two teams who contested the previous World Cup final. So this writer who has been involved with the game since before he was born is not full of euphoria but clear about the enormity of the task ahead both domestically and internationally. As someone who wrote the first chapter of the history of another provincial loser, the Geelong Football Club, I can cope with defeats and find the successes hard to cope with at times. But as with the Socceroos and Geelong, let me dream a little of what we might do if we aim high. I think that is what most footy clubs do. Given that it is now clear that more football supporters go to soccer matches than the general population and vice versa, I wonder if it is time that the codes looked at the possibilities of co-operation rather than seeking to denigrate each other.

  6. Great read Roy.

    Juric’s moment, (“That moment was a metaphor for Australia’s performance throughout”) was indeed a highlight, which you summarised very nicely. At that point I was up on the couch cheering like a 14 year old.

    I don’t know who you’re talking with DZ but in all the buzz surrounding the win and the bonhomie I was a part of the next day I did not hear anyone jump to such exaggerated conclusions as you suggest. I think we know where we’re at. What was pleasing about this tournament (and this is what I inferred from Roy’s article/s) is that it is the first time since our so called ‘golden generation’ that you got the sense that we have a squad that could develop strongly enough to take on the final 16 of a World Cup. That’s worth a moment’s reflection surely.

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