The great joy of the sports-mad nation of Australia after winning their first Asia Cup was even heightened by a remark from Joseph Blatter, the President of the International Football Association (FIFA). “It will be more than deserved when Australia will host the Football World Cup one day“, the FIFA boss said. It was a “misunderstanding of sports history” that Australia is the only continent that has not yet hosted a World Cup, except junior tournaments. At the awarding of the 2022 World Cup in 2010, eventually won by Qatar, Australia received just one vote.
Australian football took a big step with the 2-1 (1-1, 1-0) after extra time over South Korea. Ten years after their affiliation into the Asia Football Confederation (AFC) the “Socceroos” won the Asian title for the first time. Not only the disappointment about the early elimination at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil could thus be forgotten. The confidence to soon close the gap to the world’s top received new stimulus in all the euphoria. “That’s one of the greatest moments in Australian sports, for it was extremely hard to win the tournament. None of us had assumed that“, said Ange Postecoglou.“I hope we will now conquer the world“, Australia’s national coach added.
76,385 spectators at Australia Stadium in Sydney celebrated the triumph, millions of fans throughout the country were also excited after an extremely thrilling final. “Down Under” fans were already beside themselves and preparing for the triumph on the 90th minute whistle, because the team were leading 1-0 after a 44th minute goal from Massimo Luongo, of English third-division club Swindon Town. Injury time started at the venue of the 2000 Olympic Games, causing celebrations to end abruptly and prompt collective shock. Heung-Min Son, the Bayer Leverkusen striker, netted a 1-1 equaliser in the 91st minute.
Die Taeguk Warriors hatten es in die Verlängerung geschafft und hofften mit ihrem deutschen Trainer Uli Stielike auf ihren dritten Asien-Titel nach 1956 und 1960. Aber dann folgte doch noch australische Riesen-Party nach 120 Spielminuten. Der Treffer von James Troisi in der 105. Minute entschied dieThe “Taeguk Warriors” and their German coach Uli Stielike had reached extra time and were once again hoping for their third Asia title after 1956 and 1960. But after 120 minutes the giant Australian party had recommenced. The dramatic encounter was decided when James Troisi scored the winner in the 105th minute. Coach Ange Postecoglou had sent on the 26-year-old, from Belgian club SV Zulte Waregem, for Robbie Kruse in the 71st minute.
The Bayer Leverkusen offensive midfielder suffered an injury making it impossible for him to continue, and he later took part in the victory ceremony supported by crutches. The following day the 27-year-old was diagnosed with a multiple ruptured ligament in the ankle joint.
That’s bitter for us and particularly for Robbie. He was almost back to his top form”, said Leverkusen’s coach Roger Schmidt. Kruse will be missed for three to four months. “The only positive fact is that it happened in the final and not in the semis. So Robbie can feel as a true Asia Cup champion“, Schmidt continued. Australia defeated the United Arab Emirates (UAE) 2-0 in the semi-final. The UAE won the bronze medal with a 3-2 (1-2) victory over Iraq.
This did not cloud the national celebrations, however. That’s the best goal in my entire career and it will definitely make history. It is great for Australian football. Nobody will forget this night”, rejoiced match winner Troisi, who played with Newcastle United from 2005 to 2008. Japan had originally been considered the favourites for the title prior the kick-off on January 9, but they were eliminated by the United Arab Emirates in the quarter-finals. Four years ago the Japanese won their fourth Asia title by beating Australia 1-0 in the final, and became the record champions in the competition inaugurated in 1956.
Great disappointment reigned among the South Koreans, who defeated Iraq 2-0 in the semis, when they failed to win their first continental title in 55 years and at their sixth participation in the final. Coach Stielike won 17 titles as a player, among others with Borussia Moenchengladbach and Real Madrid. But the first major success as coach remained elusive for the 60-year-old, who gained the 1980 European title with the German national team. “We might not have the trophy, but our players are the champions of the heart. The best outcome of the match would have been a draw, so each team would hold the Cup for two years”, Stielike said after his return to Seoul.
His team had won all their five matches leading to the final, among them the group match against Australia (1-0). The 0-1 in the final was the first goal conceded by the team which boasts three Bundesliga professionals, Son and Jin-Su Kim (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim) and Joo-Ho Park (FSV Mainz 05), plus Di-Ru Cha who previously played in Germany. The quartet was in the starting eleven for the final, as was Premier League player Sung-Yueng Kim (Swansea City). In the winning team there were also professionals engaged in Germany and England. In addition to Luongo they were Jason Davidson (West Bromwich Albion) and Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace) from the Premier League. Besides Kruse, Mathew Leckie is also playing with a German club, second-division leader FC Ingolstadt. Another regular in the Australian team was Matthew Spiranovic, who played with 1. FC Nürnberg for several years.
After the totally disappointing 2014 World Cup for the four participating Asian teams, the Asia Cup showed in part top level football. Australia won not a single point at the World Cup, while Japan, South Korea and Iran gained just one. All teams finished bottom of their group and were eliminated in the preliminary round. The teams found revitalised form for the Asia Cup. China, fighting to close the gap behind the continental elite, hit an upswing with three wins in the three group matches. The competitive situation in Asia is sharpening; Iran (three-time Asia champions) and Iraq (one title) belong at the top with South Korea and Japan. The UAE team seemed to establish themselves as the best team from the Arabic countries, while Saudi-Arabia (three-time champions) trail slightly. A selection from Palestine competed at the Asia Cup for the first time. The number of participants will be increased from 16 to 24 teams as of 2019. The host country has not yet been chosen.