Commentary

Three takeaways from AFC Asian Cup final

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

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 Troisi 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 Heung-min 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 quarterfinals.

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 excelled.

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 Dejagah. 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 of context.

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.

CHAMPIONS. 1956: South Korea. 1960: South Korea. 1964: Israel. 1968: Iran. 1972: Iran. 1976: Iran. 1980: Kuwait. 1984: Saudi Arabia. 1988: Saudi Arabia. 1992: Japan. 1996: Saudi Arabia. 2000: Japan. 2004: Japan. 2007: Iraq. 2011: Japan. 2015: 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.: 76,385.
5 comments about "Three takeaways from AFC Asian Cup final".
  1. Glenn Auve, January 31, 2015 at 8:43 p.m.

    The Australian Open happens in Melbourne, not Sydney

  2. Kevin Sims, January 31, 2015 at 8:54 p.m.

    Article declares South Korea winner in statistical summary. Embarrassing SA reporting continues.

  3. R2 Dad, February 1, 2015 at 2:09 a.m.

    It always amuses me when pedants come nit-picking about editing. Really?

  4. Gus Keri, February 1, 2015 at 10:09 a.m.

    The opposition of the Gulf states to Australia entry into the Asian confederation is not new. It has been there since day one. It was seen many of the Asian nation as favoritism by FIFA toward the two Anglo-Saxon nations in the region of Australia and New Zealand. Two countries were fighting for 1/2 spot on the World Cup. Now, Australia is almost guaranteed a spot while New Zealand fighting by itself for 1/2 spot. And some people might remember what happened when Germany was awarded the World Cup over South Africa. Was it a part of the deal? Who knows? It's that bias that angered the Gulf states who ended up paying the heaviest price.

  5. Kevin Sims, February 2, 2015 at 7:36 p.m.

    Sorry R2 Dad ... but the leading soccer journalists in the USA rarely posts an article without glaring snafus ... I think they have an obligation to model literacy ... there was a time when SA got it right and I would love to see that return ... pedant? perhaps

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