Football Sport

Blue samuri bounce the Socceroos

Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the Mar/Apr 2011 issue of World Gaming magazine.

The 2011 Asian Football Championship has come to an end and it was the Japanese who triumphed after a searing extra time goal. The Australian team (the Socceroos) were left lamenting what may have been, and the competition proved that football in Asia is gaining well-deserved respect.

Japan has secured their fourth Asian football title and can safely claim, after their success last year in the World Cup, to be the best football team in the region. Sixteen teams from all parts of Asia started the tournament in four groups of four. Japan, South Korea and Australia were the bookies’ favourites and were all heavily bet, not forgetting of course the Middle Eastern teams always perform well in this tournament and China is capable of providing stiff opposition on their day.

The tournament was held in Qatar which will also host the 2022 World Cup. On the whole the tournament was well run and reasonably well supported when the Middle Eastern teams were playing. Jordan, Iran and the local Qatar team made it to the quarter finals but unfortunately for the local fans they were all bundled out before the semi finals. The biggest surprise was Uzbekistan who were having their most successful tournament ever before Australia destroyed them in the semi final by six goals. The other semi saw Japan and Korea resume their traditional football rivalry. Not surprisingly the teams couldn’t be separated after two hours of football and it was eventually the Japanese who finished on top in a penalty shoot out.

The final was always going to be a tight affair with both teams starting at 10/11 to win. Fans in both countries stayed up late on the edge of their seats as both goalkeepers kept out numerous decent shots. After both teams failed to score a goal in the regulation 90 minutes the teams prepared for extra time. Tadanari Lee etched his name into the record books by hitting a scorching volley past the valiant Aussie goalkeeper, Schwarzer, who could only look on in dismay. The Japanese held on for the last few minutes to lift the trophy for their adoring fans.

To demonstrate just how serious football is becoming in Asia, the Japan team is coached by Italian Alberto Zaccheroni and Australia by German Holger Osieck, both world class. The final turned out to be a coaching duel with the Socceroos pouring on the attacking raids and Japan relying on the traditional Italian style of defensive counter attacking football. The Australians are still lamenting a myriad of missed opportunities as they failed time and again to find the back of the net. Zaccheroni has been hailed as the mastermind of the victory in Japan for insightful use of the bench with his super-substitute proving the difference between the two sides.

Football in Asia has a promising future with the English Premier League now the most watched sport in the region. As more Asian players force their way into the world’s best competitions more Asian supporters will get behind their national teams. With further experience they will continue to improve and we will see more Asian teams competing at a truly international standard. Asian teams have shown they can progress into the business end of the World Cup but they still have work to do to beat the best European and South American sides late in tournaments when it really matters. This will just take time and don’t be surprised if we see a World Cup make its way to this part of the world in the next 20 years.