The Socceroos’ victory in the Asian Cup was the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle that had already wowed and captivated millions across Australia, and many more overseas.
The vibrant and passionate support in the stands, the quality action on the pitch and the near faultless organisation all contributed to a magnificent tournament.
This Asian Cup was an undoubted success, and it is yet another milestone in Australia’s rich history of hosting sporting tournaments.
The FFA should be hailed for its success, as should the Australian public, including our many diverse cultural communities, for creating a platform for the following narratives.
The Postecoglou Generation has usurped the Golden Generation
For a few seconds, it felt like 1997 all over again. It had echoes of Italy in 2006, and Japan 2011 was looming in the not too distant background. The demons of Australian football’s past flashed in front of everyone’s eyes when Son Heung-min’s equaliser slipped under Mat Ryan.
Yet the fight of this team, and the fervent belief instilled in them by Ange Postecoglou, shone through. That fleeting moment of despair was banished forever as the Socceroos put in an inspiring extra 30 minutes.
How they found the additional energy is quite inspirational, and the Socceroos in reality shouldn’t have made it through extra time. Robbie Kruse went down with what could yet prove to be a sickening long-term injury, and Ivan Franjic, who had played every minute of the Asian Cup leading into the final, soon followed.
But this was a time for champions and Ange’s charges proved themselves more resolute and more worthy than any side before them. Forget the Golden Generation, this is the team that won when it counted most, and with it a deserved place in the history books.
Proving the football haters wrong
There were many detractors in Australia leading into the Asian Cup, too many to account for. There were the established journalists with love for other codes, the members of the public who saw it as a non-event and Eddie McGuire of course, who’s sucking those lemons now.
There was the Victorian government, who didn’t bid for a semi-final match because they feared the pull of the Australian Open would overshadow the match. Even the organisers set a slightly modest crowd target of 500,000.
The most fervent football fans would be lying if they said they held no lingering doubts leading into the tournament, both about crowds and the Socceroos’ chances of winning. But at least they were there from the start, hoping and dreaming of success.
The crowds and the team proved the major doubters wrong, especially those who believed it wouldn’t even register for a sporting public that had the tennis and cricket to entertain them. How wrong they were, football is coming.
The people didn’t just turn up, they flocked
The previously mentioned modest aggregate target of 500,000 was easily smashed, with about 650,000 rocking up to Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
The lowest attendance was for a dead rubber between Qatar and Bahrain (4841), and that match was held in Sydney, not in the predicted trouble regions of Canberra and Newcastle.
In fact, of the dead rubbers played in those two cities, Newcastle drew almost 7500 to Oman versus Kuwait, while Canberra managed a massive 18,457 between China and North Korea. Quite astonishing.
The original target of 500,000 was ticked off following the quarter-finals, and the overall figure could have almost reached the heights of the 690,000 that turned up to the 2007 edition if the Socceroos had qualified for the semi-final in Sydney.
Impressive figures elsewhere included the 5.3 million that tuned in to at least five minutes of the showpiece between Australia and South Korea on ABC. Three million were watching during the final minute of extra time.
Canberra in particular proved the doubters wrong, and the city has put itself on the FFA’s radar for expansion in the A-League.
Showing FIFA, and Qatar, who’s boss
There is little doubt that we have blown Qatar completely out of the desert in terms of on and off the field exploits in the Asian Cup. The 2015 tournament’s success in the stands and the faultless organisation (save for the Brisbane pitch) easily outrivals the Qataris’ efforts in 2011. They managed to pull a paltry 405,000, along with reports of ticket mismanagement.
Then the Socceroos went and won the competition, following a quarter-finals appearance in 2007 and ticket to the final in 2011. Qatar, after losing all three of their group games in Australia, have now failed to make it to the knockout rounds in three of five attempts since 2000.
There is little doubt they were one of the competition’s biggest disappointments this year, having been tipped by many experts as dark horses. For a nation that has never qualified for a World Cup, this was their first chance since gaining the rights for the 2022 edition to show they have a team worthy of playing against the best.
They failed, and while it’s never nice to revel in an opponent’s misery, it feels good given the acrimonious World Cup bid and the constant controversy over its legitimacy and viability. Australia has shown that it deserved the World Cup rights, and while Sepp Blatter was beautifully booed during the trophy presentation, I’m still blaming that cartoon kangaroo.
Renewed interest in the Asian Football Confederation
While Asian football has never been huge in Australia – indeed it’s never even been moderately popular – there is no doubt a few players left their mark on our sporting world.
Omar Abdulrahman, who had rights to challenge Massimo Luongo for player of the tournament if he’d made the final, was the highlight in the foreign department. His silky skills, deft touch and first-time balls were just magical.
Iraq’s Yaser Kasim was another standout, though Swindon Town supporters have been well aware of his abilities, and Luongo’s, for some time. China’s goalkeeper Wang Dalei was also impressive, and not just because he took advice from Brisbane ballboy Stephen White to save a penalty against Saudi Arabia.
Uzbekistan’s Sardor Rashidov, Iraq’s central defender Ahmad Ibrahim and Iran’s Sardar Azmoun were some of the other relatively unknown stars to make a lasting impression on the 2015 Asian Cup.
Hopefully this sparks more interest from A-League clubs in Asian talent, and Australian football fans in the Asian leagues. A stronger relationship with our AFC counterparts is beneficial for everyone.
A win for multiculturalism
Ange Postecoglou, the man who just delivered Australia its first success in a major men’s football tournament, arrived in this country thanks to a bloody boat. Many of the men, women and children who made the Asian Cup such a success in the stands arrived in similar circumstances from war-torn countries.
It’s a clear sign of what different cultures can achieve in Australia, and what they can contribute to our society. They’re not freeloaders, they’re not extremists and they aren’t here to destroy the English language and the Australian way of life.
While I’m hopefully preaching to the choir on The Roar, let’s hope many people’s views on immigration were challenged, and altered, following the scenes in the Asian Cup.
Chinese football could be ready to fulfil its potential
Since Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation, the superpowers have been Japan, South Korea and the Socceroos. Now the region’s sleeping dragon, China, look ready to challenge that triumvirate.
Three wins out of three group games, against quality opposition, was a big surprise for a team expected to have to fight for second spot in Group B. A win against Australia in the quarter-finals would have been huge, but there are enough signs for this nation that they can finally find some sustained progress, which has faltered since their foray into the World Cup in 2002.
Similarly, it’s a case of what now for Japanese football. A terrible World Cup campaign, where they were expected to at least make the knockout stages, and now a premature exit in a competition they have dominate over the last 25 years, signals something of a crisis for Samurai Blue.
Smells like team spirit
One of the most heartwarming images from the scenes of the Socceroos’ victory celebrations was when Robbie Kruse entered the field on crutches. It was about an hour after he’d left the pitch on a stretcher in tears, a forlorn figure with another long-term injury on the cards.
His teammates gathered to embrace him, and while it was clear he was struggling to come to terms with this latest setback, there was always a Roos player with an arm around him throughout the euphoria.
One of his best mates at club side Bayer Leverkusen, Son, was also there to lend his support, even while trying to shake off the disappointment of an Asian Cup final loss.
Kruse was sorely missed during the Brazil World Cup, and was instrumental for the Socceroos in this tournament. An Asian Cup winner’s medal is just reward after fighting back from an ACL injury and hopefully we see him back sooner rather than later.