To win its fourth Asian Cup title Japan must defeat an opponent hopeful of its first major soccer trophy. Australia meets Japan in the final Saturday in the Qatari capital of Doha, and its captain Lucas Neillbelieves a victory would be just reward for a fleet of players who've brought prominence to sport in the past decade.
“For this era of players, it’s an ideal opportunity to win something. It would be a very nice reward for a lot of hard work and sacrifice,” Neill said to Reuters Friday of efforts by Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill, Brett Emerton, Mark Schwarzer, and others.
Australia cruised into the final by drilling Uzbekistan, 6-0, in the semis after it squeezed past Iraq, 1-0, on a goal by Kewell with just two minutes remaining in extra time. Japan edged past host Qatar, 3-2, in the quarterfinals, then ousted rival South Korea on penalty kicks after a riveting 2-2 tie in the semis.
In age and style the Aussies, who left the Oceania federation to join the AFC four years ago and are playing in their second Asian Cup, are in sharp contrast to the youthful, exuberant Japanese. Former AFC Player of the Year Yasuhito Endo is the only player in the squad older than 30, and the mesmerizing, attacking soccer fueled by Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa (since injured) has cut apart their opponents, though their own defensive resilence has been suspect. (The match, which kicks off at 10 a.m. ET Saturday, is available on pay-per-view on cable TV systems and DISH Network. The game is also available on Verizon Wireless V CAST Video at www.VerizonWireless.com.)