What do you think of the Asian Cup so far?


Roy Hay

As we reach the sharp end of the Asian Cup some things are already clear, others remain to be settled. The competition has been embraced by over half a million spectators and millions of television viewers with four games still to be played. More viewers in China watched the game on state television than there are people in Australia.

For the first time I get the feeling that many Australians who have ambivalent feelings about the Asian century and this country’s place in it have been able to see or experience one significant aspect of that through sport. They see countries whose political relations vary from outright hostility to diplomatic coldness coming together to play football sometimes of an outrageously exciting and controversial kind. The Iran versus Iraq quarter-final in Canberra will go down as one of the most extraordinary pieces of sporting theatre this country has witnessed. While I may be proved wrong, it seems to have come about without any of the off-field trouble that some blinkered media pundits and at least one better-informed football coach were expecting. A protest by Iran about the eligibility of one of the Iraqi players has been dismissed by the AFC Disciplinary Committee.

The unpredictability of football compared with most other top class sports has been confirmed once again. Japan came into the tournament as a virtually unbackable favourite to retain its title. Iran is top ranked football nation in Asia according to FIFA’s, admittedly flawed, system. Neither will participate in the semi-finals after succumbing to penalty-shoot-out defeats by the United Arab Emirates and Iraq respectively. Iraq’s team of heroes, once again, has shown extraordinary ability to succeed despite having to play all of its matches away from the war-torn country. The UAE has a coach who has brought a team of youngsters through from the junior ranks as a squad whose self-belief and self-knowledge may yet carry them further. They have a genuine superstar in Omar Abdulrahman, though he does not do much defensive work, and a lethal striker, Ali Mabkhout, and a miserly defence. They will be hard to beat from now on.

South Korea won the first two Asian Cups in 1956 and 1960 but hasn’t won it since then. Now it has a team several members of which play in the top leagues in Europe and a strong domestic competition. It topped Australia’s group with a single goal victory in Brisbane over the Socceroos. As a collective it looks ominously strong, but it is no certainty to overcome Iraq.

That leaves the hosts. Coming into the tournament following a string of very ordinary results, it would be fair to say that outside the ‘fans with laptops’ who form the Australian soccer press, the players themselves and above all their coach, there was no great optimism that the Socceroos would progress.

Ange Postecoglou was one of those players who had to work very hard to obtain and retain a place in a very good South Melbourne team in the National Soccer League. He was a full back, steady, reliable, unflashy, composed and had an unshakeable belief in himself and what he was trying to do for his team. He represented Australia against Czechoslovakia and New Zealand. When his playing days were over he became a coach and won back-to-back NSL championships with South Melbourne in 1997-98 and 1998-99. He took South to the World Club championship in Brazil in 2000. Then he won successive titles with Brisbane Roar in the A-League in 2011 and 2012.

Ray Gatt of The Australian has compared Ange to Wayne Bennett, the doyen of rugby league mentors, as coaching exemplars saying they both have the ability to get the very best out of their players. At South Melbourne, Brisbane, Melbourne Victory and now with the Socceroos, Postecoglou has shown that he can create and develop a system that is not dependent on particular players. Obviously if you have a unique talent like Tim Cahill you make the maximum use of him, but Ange has shown that he is prepared to rest Cahill to ensure that he is available for the final stages.

So can Australia go all the way to the title on home soil? That is a huge advantage and a packed stadium in the Hunter on Tuesday will do everything they can to will the Socceroos over the line. Provided they show the same discipline and commitment to the game plan that they did against China in the quarter-final and keep tabs on the UAE stars I believe they will reach the final. Like the coach, I am taking it one game at a time.


  1. Great summary Roy!

    As a Socceroos fan, you can only hope the lengthy quarter final and the emotion of the penalty shootout has taken a wee toll on the UAE players, as opposed to Australia getting it done in regulation time and an extra day’s rest.

    I’ve got a very bad feeling about this though…

  2. Thanks for the summary, Roy. The upset loss of Japan aside (and the ludicrosity that is Iran being the top ranked nation in Asia) this tournament has pretty well summed up where Asian football is at, at the moment. Lacking in depth and still developing competent administrative practices (Iran protesting against the eligibility of a player that they failed to do a B-test on was a masterstroke in administrative satire). Players smoking in the changerooms beggars belief too.

    On the positive side it has shown its potential for thrilling matches and as you say it has been embraced by the crowds. And then there’s Timmy Cahill!

  3. The football is great, but so is the symbolism. We need Asia more than Asia needs us, so it is great to have their teams enjoying the tournament with the related media coverage back home.
    Postecoglou ranks with Alastair Clarkson with me for current day coaches with the vision and courage to understand where the game is heading, and how to mould the most effective team over time. The players look like they believe in him and his system, and they want to play for him.
    Easy to say. Really, really hard to achieve.
    Thanks Roy.

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