By Paul Kennedy
The AFC Asian Cup treated fans to
thrills throughout the three weeks of the Asian championship in Australia, and the final did not disappoint as the host Socceroos needed an overtime goal from James
to defeat South Korea, 2-1, in the final before 76,385 fans at Stadium Australia in Sydney.
Celebrations had to be put on hold after Son
equalized for South Korea in stoppage time. Massimo Luongo
had put Australia ahead at the end of the first half. The victory was revenge for
South Korea's 1-0 victory in group play in Brisbane.
Here are three takeaways from the tournament. 1. Tim Cahill's time away pays off with
championship. Tim Cahill
, whose frequent trips to join Australia for warm-up games contributed to his tensions with the New York Red Bulls
last season, will go down as one of the greatest Australian players of all time.
At 35, Cahill was likely playing in his last major tournament, and he did not disappoint. He was not a
factor in the final, having to go off in the second half with a foot injury suffered in the first half, but he added to his legend by scoring both goals, the first a bicycle kick
and the second on a patented header, in Australia's 2-0 win over China in the
In the final, Cahill's injury, suffered in the 25th minute, hurt the Socceroos, who struggled to put away South Korea, which was seeking its first Asian title since winning
back-to-back crowns in 1956 and 1960. Cahill will likely leave the Red Bulls, though. Reports suggested he will move to Al Wahda FC in the United Arab Emirates. 2. Australia is a soccer nation.
Like the United States, Australia is a multi-sport nation. Soccer is just one of four football sports that are popular in Australia and
traditionally has ranked behind Australian Rules football, Rugby Union and Rugby League. There's also cricket, and individual sports like tennis, golf and swimming at which Australians have
The Asian Cup had to share the spotlight with the Australian Open tennis tournament, which is taking place in Melbourne, but the Socceroos' run to the title captured the
imagination of Australians. "This is our World Cup," Cahill said before the final.
The tournament averaged 20,303 fans for 32 matches, and Australia won support from FIFA president Sepp Blatter
, who termed Australia's failure to host the World Cup "an unfortunate omission in sporting history."
Soccer's power to unite Australia's
immigrant communities was evident throughout the tournament. The Iraq-Iran quarterfinal match, which produced four goals in overtime and ended 3-3 before Iraq advanced in a shootout, will go down as
one of the greatest matches in the history of the Asian Cup. Concern about potential trouble between Iranian and Iraqi fans who converged on Canberra Stadium proved to be misguided as the game
produced a festive atmosphere.
The support for Team Melli was one of the stories of the tournament. "It was like playing in Tehran," said striker Ashkan
. With one important difference: women were allowed into the stadiums to support Iran. Iranian women wearing Iran T-shirts and carrying Iranian flags proudly posed for television
cameras. At home, they are barred from entering sports stadiums. 3. AFC politics create sore losers.
Less than a decade after joining
the AFC, Australia is in danger of being kicked out of the Asian Football Confederation, or so it seems, if you believe press reports circulating around Asia.
In the eyes of nations from the Gulf region, it's bad enough that the likes of Japan and South Korea dominate Asian soccer, having both qualified for every World Cup since 1998,
but Australia is now just about an automatic choice . As reigning country and club champion -- Western Sydney Wanderers won the 2014 AFC Champions League -- Australia makes an easy target.
(The irony, of course, is that its Oceania rivals were happy to see the Socceroos depart after inflicting 31-0 and 22-0 thrashings on tiny opponents.)
While AFC president Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa
was quoted in a Dubai paper on the eve of the final
that Gulf states weren't the only ones unhappy with Australia's membership and they could raise the issue before the AFC, he turned around and told the Australian media his quotes had been taken out
What is true is that soccer politics in Asian are notoriously volatile, and friends today are often enemies tomorrow.
For all the commercial power it brings to the AFC, Australia is, to say the least, no longer being welcomed with open arms.
South Korea. 1960:
South Korea. 1964:
Saudi Arabia. 1988:
Saudi Arabia. 1992:
Saudi Arabia. 2000:
Australia. Jan. 31 in Sydney Australia 2, South Korea 1.
Goals: Luongo 45, Troisi 105; Son 90+2. South Korea --
Kim Jin-Hyeon, Kim Jin-Su, Kim Young-Gwon, Jang, Kwak, Cha, Park (Han 71), Son, Nam (Lee Keun-Ho 63), Ki, Lee Jung-Yeop (Ju 88). Australia --
Ryan, Davidson, Spiranovic, Sainsbury, Franjic (McKay 75), Cahill (Juric 63), Milligan, Jedinak, Luongo, Leckie, Kruse (Troisi 73). Att.: